Since 1991, the National Aquarium Animal Rescue team has been responsible for responding to stranded marine mammals and sea turtles along the Delmarva Peninsula, primarily along the more than 4,000 miles of Maryland coastline. This year, 2016, marks the 25th anniversary of the program, which has successfully rescued, treated and returned more than 160 animals to their natural habitats including harbor, gray, harp and hooded seals; Kemp’s ridley, green and loggerhead sea turtles; rough-toothed dolphins; a harbor porpoise; a pygmy sperm whale; and a manatee.
“It’s a great responsibility to be involved in the animal rescue process,” said Jennifer Dittmar, manager of National Aquarium Animal Rescue. “The triumph of returning a healthy animal to the wild is the reason we have such devoted Animal Rescue volunteers. Without them and the good Samaritans who call in tips, the program would not be the success it is today.”
In addition to Dittmar’s team, volunteers and partner organizations throughout Maryland, Virginia and Delaware have dedicated tens of thousands of hours since Animal Rescue’s inception to help the team with rescue operations, animal transports, animal feeding and monitoring, rehabilitation, enrichment, releases and much more.
Over the past 25 years, Animal Rescue has received close to 750 calls about animals in distress. In addition to the more than 160 animals returned to their natural habitats, two animals were treated and remain at the Aquarium today including Calypso, the 500+-pound sea turtle that is the star of the Blacktip Reef exhibit. Currently, the Aquarium is rehabilitating 16 animals with the goal of releasing them.
National Aquarium Animal Rescue is a member of the Greater Atlantic Region Stranding Network (GARS) through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The Aquarium is one facility among a network of nationally recognized facilities that work cooperatively to respond to stranded marine mammals and sea turtles.
Animal Rescue works directly with NOAA, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, and regional and national partners to respond to stranded animals and collect data to enhance understanding of ocean health and the issues affecting aquatic animals.
“While returning a healthy animal to its natural habitat is gratifying, our larger success is determined by our ability to convey each animal’s story so that we can all understand the impact that our day-to-day actions have on them and the thoughtful choices we can take to make a positive difference in their lives and ours,” said Brent Whitaker, Acting SVP/Chief Conservation Officer of the National Aquarium.
For 25 years, National Aquarium Animal Rescue has responded to and cared for hundreds of marine animals in distress. Their success wouldn’t be possible without the generosity of philanthropic individuals and organizations. To donate, visit aqua.org/care.
All species of marine mammals are federally protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, and all seven species of sea turtles are federally protected under the Endangered Species Act of 1973.