VIRGINIA BEACH — If you’ve been on the beach within the recent week you may have had the unfortunate experience of witnessing a sea animal washed ashore — last Monday a dead dolphin was reported to police, and last Tuesday, a dead sea turtle reported to the Virginia Aquarium &Marine Science Center’s Stranding Response team.
While it’s surprising for beachgoers to see decomposing marine animals on or near the shore in such a short period of time, Dr. Alexander Costidis, the Stranding Response Program’s coordinator, said it’s not uncommon but reports and sightings do increase during summer months.
“We document about 100 marine mammal and 200-300 sea turtle strandings every year, and those are only the ones reported to us,” he said.
And, reporting sick, injured, or dead animals and avoiding intervening is what a responsible beachgoer should do, Costidis said.
Providing details including the location, condition, and even photos or video of the animal can be critical especially if the animal may still be alive.
According to the program’s blog, when water temperatures drop in the winter, sea turtles and other cold-blooded reptiles can suffer from what’s called ‘cold-stunning.’
Although they appear to be dead, the turtles might just be in a coma because of the sudden drop in body temperature and require immediate medical attention.
“We have trained professionals who are federally permitted and know how to work with these species to provide the best care while maintaining safety for the animal and person,” Costidis said.
While marine life can be threatened by preventable human-caused factors like fishing hooks, entanglement, or watercraft trauma, Costidis said it’s unclear what caused the recent death of the dolphin and sea turtle here.
“The dolphin was not recovered as it was free-floating and severely decomposed,” he said. “The turtle is currently undergoing an internal examination, however, given its state of decomposition may not yield any answers as several ancillary diagnostic tests require fresh tissues.”
The Stranded Response team can be dispatched 24 hours a day via their hotline: 757-385-7575.
For more information about the Stranded Response Program and what to do if you should encounter a stranded animal on the ocean shore, click here.