Marine Animal Stranding Team – Overview
The Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge (ECWR) has provided marine mammal response for the western Florida panhandle since 1994. ECWR is authorized by NOAA to handle these federally protected animals as a member organization of the national marine mammal stranding network. Our coverage area spans Walton, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, and Escambia counties including Choctawhatchee Bay, Santa Rosa Sound, Pensacola & East Bay, Big Lagoon, and Perdido Bay, an area of over 85 miles of Gulf beaches and 350 miles of inland shoreline.
The ECWR stranding team is composed of experienced marine wildlife professionals including three veterinarians, trained animal care specialists, and a group of dedicated volunteers. Our team is able to respond to calls about stranded animals 24 hours per day year round. We are equipped to transport injured animals to the regional rehabilitation facility, and we recover all carcasses for examination and proper disposal. Our facility is located on Okaloosa Island in Fort Walton Beach, and we usually can send our response team to a stranded animal within 90 minutes throughout the coverage area.
The winter months are when most of the strandings occur. This is likely due to sudden temperature drops that stress weak and older animals causing them to become ill. Mother dolphins usually give birth in the early spring months, and occasionally we see infant strandings in conjunction with disease outbreaks or hard freeze conditions. As a result, we define our “stranding season” as the months from November through May. We will get reports of dolphins injured by boat props or entangled in fishing gear at any time of year and we are always prepared to quickly respond to these calls.