Wildlife Refuge awarded $250K for marine mammal strandings

Posted on August 6, 2019 by Staff reports

A rare, deep-water beaked whale died July 8 at Opal Beach  

The Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge has received a $250,967 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to increase its capacity to respond to marine mammal strandings in Northwest Florida.

“The grant will increase the capabilities in this critical mission area by orders of magnitude,” said ECWR Executive Director Carol Andersen, noting the funding has provided for the hiring of a full-time Marine Mammal Stranding Coordinator, Brittany Baldrica.

Baldrica, along with ECWF Vice President, Dr. Natalie Dyson, DVM, will head the Refuge’s all-volunteer marine mammal stranding team.

“In addition, the grant will provide much-needed equipment to potentially improve the survival rates of living marine mammals who strand, such as a fully equipped heavy-duty van which will allow for treatment of stranded whales and dolphins, and transport sea turtles to appropriate care facilities,” Andersen said. “These are some of our Nation’s most endangered and precious species, and the capabilities NFWF will provide ECWR through this grant, will potentially increase the chances of survival by allowing in-transit professional medical treatment by our veterinarian, stranding coordinator, and stranding team members.”

Andersen said the funding couldn’t have been at a more “critical” time.

“The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) has recently declared an unusual mortality event (UME) for the Gulf Coast from Texas to Northwest Florida due to the greatly increased death rates for dolphins and other marine mammals. Here at ECWR, we have already responded to 21 stranding events thru mid-July, when we typically only face 18 strandings for an entire year,” she said.

Per Andersen, the strandings have included two deep-water whales and numerous dolphins.

“So the increased capabilities this grant provides will allow us to appropriately respond to strandings in a timely manner, treat living animals while they are in transit to appropriate care increasing their chance of survival, and more thoroughly research the cause of death of those marine animals that have unfortunately perished so that we can get to root causes of this UME, working with our State and Federal partners. We couldn’t be more grateful to NOAA and NFWF for their support,” she said.

The grant also includes funding for public education and outreach efforts. On average ECWR provides educational programs to more than 5,000 school children and thousand more adults each year.

“This grant will also provide for increased marine mammal programs and events for students of all ages,” she said.

For more information visit emeraldcoastwildliferefuge.com