Coast Guard Urges Caution to Public Who Encounter Marine Life

PORTSMOUTH, Va. – Coast Guard Station Cape Charles, Va., assisted professionals from the Virginia Aquariam Tuesday when four dolphins were stranded ashore near Cherrystone Inlet located in the Chesapeake Bay.

Aquarium staffers and volunteers tended to the animals, but due to their beached status and poor health the animals died. In addition to this event, there have been reports of several other mass strandings in the Hampton Roads and North Carolina region this week. The Coast Guard wants to take this opportunity to educate the public about what to do and not to do if you encounter marine wildlife.

Beachgoers and mariners often come across marine mammals, birds, and sea turtles. It is normal for some of these animals to be on land to rest or to give birth. Marine mammals and sea turtles are protected by the Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act. It is against the law to touch, feed, or otherwise harass them. Harassment occurs when your behavior changes their behavior.

Occasionally, marine mammals and sea turtles may end up on our shores sick, inured, or dead. Other times, they become entrapped or disoriented and are unable to return to their natural habitat without assistance. These events are known as strandings. There are typically two types of stranding events – mass strandings and single strandings.

In most cases, the cause of stranding is unknown, but some identified causes have included disease, parasite infestation, harmful algal blooms, injuries due to ship strikes or fishery entanglements, pollution exposure, trauma, and starvation. In addition, strandings may occur after unusual weather or oceanographic events. In some cases, live stranded animals can be rescued, rehabilitated, and returned to the wild. In every case, whether alive or dead, stranded marine mammals and sea turtles reveal valuable information about their lives.

If you find stranded protected species:

  • Call experts for help. Contact the Virginia Aquarium Stranding Response Center at (757) 437-6159 or your local appropriate authority. In rivers and lakes, contact Game Wardens from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. The Coast Guard is the point of contact for the Chesapeake Bay and ocean waters and can be reached in emergencies at (757) 398-6390 or via VHF Ch. 16.
  • Do not touch the animal or push it back into the water! Doing so can cause the animal to re-strand and die. If it goes back into the water on its own, do not follow it or try to swim with it.
  • Be careful around wild animals! Never surround animals, circle animals, or their nests. Avoid sensitive habitats such as shallow water around marshes and submerged vegetation. If you have to move close to animals because of channel markers, shallow water or traffic, maintain a slow speed and course. Do not approach right whales closer than 500 yards, and stay 100 yards away from other large whales! If you are unsure of the whale species, assume the whales are endangered right whales. If animals approach you closer than 50 yards, place your vessel in neutral or maintain a set course at a slow speed until you are more than 50 yards away.

As a steward of the marine environment, the Coast Guard is committed to enforcing and complying with protected species regulations. The Coast Guard works with Federal partners including NOAA Fisheries, National Ocean Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife and state and local organizations such as the Virginia Aquarium Stranding Response Center.

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