The Marine Mammal Stranding Network in the Southeastern United States
IAAAM 1991
Daniel K. Odell, PhD
Sea World, Orlando, FL

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.

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Daniel K. Odell, PhD