NFWF and SeaWorld Announce New Support for Rescue Networks across the Nation
Program will support organizations that respond to stranded marine mammals and sea turtles
WASHINGTON, D.C. (October 20, 2016) – The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) and SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc., today announced that their Ocean Health Initiative will fund projects that support the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) two national stranding response and rescue programs for marine mammals and sea turtles. The funding for the projects is part of SeaWorld’s pledge of $1.5 million over three years for the Ocean Health Initiative announced in 2015.
Projects supported by the Ocean Health Initiative, a public-private conservation partnership between SeaWorld and NFWF are designed to increase understanding of the health of threatened marine and coastal species and habitats. This initiative will build the capacity of marine mammal and sea turtle stranding response networks and improve access to information that can support conservation management and species recovery.
“Increasing capacity for early response and health and stranding research can help to increase our knowledge of the causes of strandings and better protect marine mammals and sea turtles,” said Jeff Trandahl, executive director and CEO of NFWF. “Given SeaWorld’s leadership and expertise in this field as one of the largest marine mammal rescue operators, supporting our nation’s stranding and rehabilitation networks was a natural fit.”
There are hundreds of permitted members including SeaWorld employees from park locations in San Diego, San Antonio and Orlando, many of whom volunteer their time to participate in the national marine mammal and sea turtle stranding networks. Coordinated by NOAA and the USFWS as authorized by the Marine Mammal Protection Act and Endangered Species Act, these stranding network participants work with NOAA to serve as the front line for stranding response and documentation, transport of live stranded animals, veterinary care, and “CSI”-style investigators for the nation’s marine mammals and sea turtles. Network participants include state and federal agencies, universities, tribes, aquariums and other non-governmental organizations. Together, these individuals and organizations help animals in distress and, when animals can’t be saved, work to understand the causes of mortality.
“These networks are the ‘first responders’ for marine wildlife needing rescue and rehabilitation,” said Joel Manby, President and Chief Executive Officer of SeaWorld. “Their front-line work is critical for the lives of thousands of animals, and as the largest marine mammal rescue operator in the U.S., we see first-hand how important it is to preserve the world’s oceans and the animals who live there.”
A viable stranding network not only increases survival of distressed animals, but enables scientists to uncover causes of morbidity/mortality, monitor health, and identify emerging mortality factors including disease factors. Improved understanding of natural and human-caused threats helps inform management intervention/mitigation where appropriate. Unfortunately, the annual response to thousands of marine mammal and sea turtle strandings can be limited due to lack of available resources for network partners. Enhancements to the stranding networks will improve response through purchase of equipment, supplies and/or additional training to facilitate the high standards desired in stranding response and rehabilitation.
“NOAA Fisheries relies on the long-standing public-private partnerships with National Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network members to obtain vital information on marine mammal and sea turtle health and mortality that is needed to develop effective conservation programs for populations in the wild,” said Donna Wieting, Director of NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources. “These Networks, with their trained professionals, provide valuable environmental intelligence, helping NOAA understand the causes of mortality and establish links among the health of marine mammals and sea turtles, coastal ecosystems, and coastal communities."
All of the sea turtles and many of the marine mammals that live in U.S. coastal waters are listed under the Endangered Species Act as threatened or endangered. Human-caused threats to these populations in their marine environments include bycatch in commercial and recreational fisheries, vessel strikes, harassment and illegal feeding, marine debris, pollution, and habitat degradation. Improved information on the identification and effects of these threats is needed to support conservation management actions to address them, as well as distinguish human caused events from naturally occurring ones caused by diseases, extreme weather events and harmful algal blooms.
One of the best opportunities to gather critical information arises through this network of institutions and volunteers that act as first responders to stranded animals.
Goals of the Ocean Health Initiative include:
Dedicated support and funding for the nation’s Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network. Even though thousands of sea turtles strand each year along the U.S. coastlines, the network that responds to these animals, is in need of a dedicated funding source to ensure continued operations, improve response times, and enhance response to large-scale stranding events such as cold-stunning. Support from SeaWorld’s Ocean Health Initiative will provide a dedicated funding account for the first time to address these needs, as prioritized by an independent working group within the network. Current needs have already been identified to increase capacity in North Carolina to provide care for cold-stunned turtles that can strand in large numbers, and to provide PIT tags and readers to the network for large-scale stranding events so that turtles that are released can be tagged and identified if recaptured.
Bolstering response and research capabilities of the Marine Mammal Stranding Network by increasing the funds available to respond to stranded mammals, including dolphins, seals and manatees, and providing support for gaining knowledge from these events. For example, funding has already supported The Marine Mammal Center in California to provide an additional eight satellite tags for recently rehabilitated animals that stranded in June. Tagging these additional seals will strengthen the ability of scientists, veterinarians and managers to evaluate the success of the rehabilitation, habitat use important for feeding, and potential threats to the population.
- Regional and national Marine Mammal Stranding Network enhancement through standardized data collection and data capture and ensuring adequate coverage across geographies. NOAA and the Marine Mammal Commission have been working together with lead member institutions in the National Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Network to establish a “Marine Mammal Health MAP” database that will link stranding and health data with other research and management information for a “clinical health chart” for individuals and populations of marine mammals. Similar to the efforts being made to merge human medical charts across doctor offices, the new Marine Mammal Health MAP will improve analysis of key threats and health status of marine mammal populations around the country. Support from the Ocean Health Initiative will assist in this effort by helping to build the front end visualization platform of the Marine Mammal Health MAP to provide a user-friendly workspace for network members and allow for communication between researchers and managers across the country.
About the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
Chartered by Congress in 1984, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) protects and restores the nation’s fish, wildlife, plants and habitats. Working with federal, corporate and individual partners, NFWF has funded more than 4,500 organizations and committed more than $3.5 billion to conservation projects. Learn more at www.nfwf.org.
About SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment
SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment™ is a leading theme park and entertainment company providing experiences that matter and inspiring guests to protect animals and the wild wonders of our world. The company is one of the world’s foremost zoological organizations and a global leader in animal welfare, training, husbandry and veterinary care. The company collectively cares for what it believes is one of the largest zoological collections in the world and has helped lead advances in the care of animals. The company also rescues and rehabilitates marine and terrestrial animals that are ill, injured, orphaned or abandoned, with the goal of returning them to the wild. The SeaWorld® rescue team has helped more than 28,000 animals in need over the last 50 years.
The company owns or licenses a portfolio of recognized brands including SeaWorld, Busch Gardens® and Sea Rescue®. Over its more than 50-year history, the company has built a diversified portfolio of 12 destination and regional theme parks that are grouped in key markets across the United States, many of which showcase its one-of-a-kind zoological collection of over 800 species of animals. The company’s theme parks feature a diverse array of rides, shows and other attractions with broad demographic appeal which deliver memorable experiences and a strong value proposition for its guests.
SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment is a wholly owned subsidiary of SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc., a publicly traded company. For more, visit www.seaworldentertainment.com.