LMMN has received authorization through NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to become a Designee Organization under the SC Marine Mammal Stranding Network (SCMMSN) and Coastal Carolina University's existing stranding agreement, allowing LMMN to help with stranding response across the state of South Carolina.
What does this mean?
Beacause marine mammals are federally protected, anyone who provides response, care or retrieval of carcasses must be authorized by NMFS. As a designee under the SCMMSN, based on James Island, LMMN can provide additional help with stranding response of sick, injured or dead marine mammals. The timing is great with the impending government shutdown and the threat of offshore drilling.
What is a stranding?
A 'stranding' refers to any marine mammal that is need in of help whether it's an animal entangled in fishing gear or crab pots, an animal in an "odd" location or a sick, injured or dead animal that strands itself on land. The SCMMSN responds to approximately 69 strandings per year, most of which are bottlenose dolphins in the greater Charleston area but do cover the entire state with the help of trained volunteers. In addition to dolphins, the stranding network will respond to other offshore species of dolphins such as spotted or striped dolphins, small and large whales such as pygmy sperm whales, right whales and humpback whales, seals, and can assist with manatees (Manatees are managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service). Every animal that is reported is assessed, picked up and/or analyzed. Depending on the state of the animal, the level of analysis will vary. Analysis can include determining the cause of death, aging, contaminant loads, diet analysis, reproductive success, and signs of human interactions. Live animal response will include determining the best course of action and the rapid response to help the animal in need.
The stranding network will be on the front lines to respond to mass strandings (2+ animals), oiled animals, animals harmed by seismic testing, or Unusual Mortality Events (UMEs). UMEs are events that see a higher number of strandings than previous years which can be caused by a sudden event (oil spill), or the spread of an infectious disease.
Why is this important?
1. The stranding network provides rapid response to sick or injured marine mammals across the state at a moment's notice. The stranding pager is monitored 24/hours a day. LMMN will provide relief to the stranding network to ensure each reported animal can be assessed. With such a small population, each animal has a big impact on the health of the population.
2. How can we help the live population without understanding their causes of mortality. The information gained can inform management of the live population by understanding human threats, emerging diseases and the health of their environment (water quality, fish stocks, etc).
3. Collecting baseline data on each dolphin allows us to keep a robust data set to compare to the health of other dolphin populations nationally or to compare the health of our dolphins over time or during a sudden event such as an oil spill.
As a designee organization, LMMN will assist with stranding response, increase our volunteer force for rapid response, bring findings to the community, and increase the funds needed to support stranding response (such as gas for response, supplies, sampling and analysis).
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