Daniel K. Odell, PhD
The study of stranded (beached) cetaceans has provided a wealth of
information on "rare" cetaceans that are not regularly seen at sea or not taken in
directed fisheries or as incidental catch. In the past three decades popular and scientific
interest in marine mammals, particularly cetaceans, has grown dramatically. As public and
scientific interest continues to grow, organized stranding networks have been recognized as a
key element in the collection of data from stranded marine mammals. Of particular interest are
strandings that result from fisheries interactions and tissue samples for determination of
pollutant or biotoxin load.
The Southeastern United States Marine Mammal Stranding Network was formed
in 1977 as the result of a workshop sponsored by the United States Marine Mammal Commission.
The Network extends from North Carolina to Texas and includes Puerto Rico and the United States
Virgin Islands. Legal administration is by the National Marine Fisheries Service Southeast
Region. The Network currently has over 300 authorized participants and logs 400-600
strandings/year. Twenty-eight species of cetaceans have been recorded in recent years with the
most common being Tursiops followed by Kogia breviceps. Field workers report
strandings to state coordinators on a standard data form that is reviewed for completeness
before being sent to the regional coordinator within 30 days of the stranding. Data are entered
in a computer database and forwarded to the Smithsonian Institution and the National Marine
Fisheries Service on a regular basis. Quarterly summaries are sent to network participants and
special reports are generated as needed.
Despite the overwhelming success of the all-volunteer network, there are
still many areas for improvement. Some geographic areas have little or no coverage by network
participants and many participants need more training in basic data collection. Extensive
specimen collection and curation will require dedicated financial support.