Very young animals and seriously injured animals are non-releasable and require long-term care facilities. At present, there are no permanent care stranding or response facilities within the Southeastern Stranding Network. The following statements indicate governmental support of the urgent need for additional resources.
The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) issued a press release 8 July 2010 in response to calls from the public concerned about dolphins, admitting that the agency is “severely limited in [its] ability to move dolphins out of their natural habitats in response to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.”
*See Protecting Wild Dolphins During the Gulf Oil Spill
On August 23, NOAA held a Southeastern Stranding Network “all hands” conference call wherein they expressed an immediate need for expanding the Gulf geographic coverage of the stranding network and anticipated increased [beyond normal] number of stranding events for at least the next three years. From NMFS meeting notes (August 23, 2010):
“…we would like to maintain the heightened level of stranding response we've achieved during the oil spill response for at least the next 3 years, as well as enhance capacity for stranding response in areas where we currently have no or limited geographic coverage…”
“…[Requesting resources for] active surveillance for strandings in areas where there is limited public reporting (aerial and/or boat-based surveys of the Big Bend area of FL, for example)”
Resources for responding to mass standings or large whale strandings are almost non-existent. Experience is also limited; most current facilities are severely underfunded and rely almost exclusively on volunteerism to operate or respond to marine mammal events.
The decline in numbers or loss of these apex predators is even more far-reaching in its effects than the current oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. An ecosystem out of balance creates trophic cascades, a domino effect where the removal or addition of a predator species within a habitat creates devastating consequences. Marine mammals are “apex” predators. As such, they play an extremely important role in the balance of ocean ecosystems. Sudden and material changes in marine mammal populations can have disastrous and far reaching impacts on the entire marine habitat.