Rescue Missions

Rescue Mission Blog

Read about recent animal rescue missions from Clearwater Marine Aquarium’s rescue team. 

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DO’s and DON’Ts if you encounter a stranded animal:

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Don’t push the animal back into the water.

Cetaceans strand for various reasons, typically resulting from illness or injury. Please call CMA’s Emergency Stranding Hotline with all available information and obtain photos or video if possible. The more information gathered, the better prepared the team can be upon response.

Do be careful!

Cetaceans are wild animals, which may use their rostrum, teeth or tails to protect themselves if they feel threatened. Human safety is always top priority, so please maintain a distance of 50 yards from the animal, unless otherwise directed by trained personnel.

Do keep water out of the animal’s blowhole.

Cetaceans breath through their blowhole, making it imperative to keep water from going down the blowhole into the lungs. Dolphins may also be affected by upper respiratory diseases, potentially being transmitted to humans. Please remain a safe distance to avoid zoonotic disease transmission.

Do protect the animal’s skin.

Cetacean skin is extremely sensitive, shedding a layer every 3-4 hours, causing them to be prone to sunburn. Therefore, water should be gently applied to exposed skin if directed by trained personnel. Cetaceans should be kept shaded and wet when possible, which will also aid in thermoregulation and prevent them from overheating.

Don’t use common sunscreens.

Common sunscreens can damage and burn dolphin’s skin. If directed, only use 100% zinc oxide. In lieu of this, shirts and towels can be used to cover exposed skin, excluding the blowhole and head. Cetacean skin is very delicate and sloughs constantly; long fingernails, wetsuit zippers or jewelry can easily cause damage.

Do keep them cool.

As with most mammals, the internal body temperature of cetaceans is near our own (~96–98 degrees F). Cetaceans alter blood flow to their flippers, dorsal fin and flukes, which act as radiators to stabilize the body temperature. If directed, assess the temperature of the dorsal fin and any other exposed skin. If the skin feels warm to the touch, additional water should be applied to assist in cooling the animal’s core temperature. Be sure not to cover the dorsal fin, pectoral flippers or flukes, as this can cause the animal to overheat.

Do protect their eyes.

Cetacean eyes produce clear mucus that is usually washed away when swimming. If the dolphin is unable to swim, this mucus may be easily seen. Protect the eyes by clearing away debris, sand, shells and anything else that could cause damage.

Don’t let the animal become stressed.

Stress can cause stranded dolphins to deteriorate quickly and decrease their chance of survival. If directed, hold the animal as gently as possible. Use the least number of people possible to support the animal while maintaining control (usually two people for an adult dolphin). Move slowly and be quiet and calm. Keep crowds away.

Rescue Team Membersstranding team truck icon

CMA’s rescue team is composed of a variety of trained personnel, including staff biologists, interns and volunteers.

  • Stranding Coordinator: Abigale Stone
  • Senior Rescue Biologist: Kerry Sanchez
  • Rescue Biologist: Chuck White
  • Associate Rescue Biologist: Ana Nader

Accompanying the staff are interns who participate in either spring, summer or fall internships, typically ranging from three to five months. The team is also composed of over 100 trained volunteers who assist the team with responses, monitoring and various tasks on a day-to-day basis.

Responsesstranding team truck icon

The CMA rescue team responds to a variety of marine animals, including cetaceans (dolphins, whales, porpoises), sea turtles, manatees, and North American river otters. The team often collaborates with other departments and local organizations, such as assisting CMA’s Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Department upon live sea turtle intakes, as well as the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWCC) with manatee rescues, verification of mating herds and monitoring manatees potentially in distress. Owl’s Nest Sanctuary for Wildlife is another facility the team collaborates with by compiling and forwarding information regarding injured birds.

Rescue personnel also respond to deceased cetaceans and sea turtles. By participating in post-mortem examinations with a partnering facility, information regarding life history, cause of death and signs of human interaction may be investigated.

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