The Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center’s aquarium recently learned that it had been awarded two NOAA grants from the prestigious John H. Prescott Marine Mammal Rescue Assistance Grant Program, the only direct source of federal funds for marine mammal stranding network members. The two matching grants total $170,000 in federal funds and are matched by $58,000 in Aquarium generated funds. One grant will help fund the Aquarium’s marine mammal stranding response operations in 2012 and the other will fund research to study the diets of bottlenose dolphins through analysis of stomach contents collected from more than 200 stranded dolphins over the last 15 years. These Prescott Grants provide support for essential marine mammal recovery and science that can only be conducted through stranding response.
In the ten years since its creation, more than 392 grants have been awarded to 85 different recipient groups from more than 24 states and territories. Award funds have been used to: respond to stranded and entangled marine mammals; rehabilitate and release stranded animals; build the capacity of local stranding networks, including supporting new networks; investigate the causes of strandings and entanglements; and conduct research using stranding data.
In February, we learned that the proposed NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service budget for next year did not include the $4 million in annual funding for the Prescott Grant Program. Despite more than ten years of funding support, and the amazing accomplishments of the nation’s marine mammal stranding network, the Prescott Program may disappear. So why should we care about the loss of this money for stranding response? The nation’s marine mammal stranding network operates in every coastal state, including Hawaii and several territories. There are dozens of stranding network member organizations, including many AZA accredited aquariums and zoological parks, and hundreds of dedicated researchers and animal rescue personnel. During the last ten years of the Prescott Grant Program, the national network has responded to an average of nearly 5,000 stranded marine mammals each year. Since 2000,Prescott funding has provided nearly $36 million to directly support marine mammal stranding response and research. Because it is a matching grant program, these federal dollars have generated more than $12 million in additional support through funds generated by stranding network members. In addition to providing essential equipment and supplies, this funding has been used to pay those dedicated personnel who retrieve and care for stranded dolphins and seals, investigate large whale and mass strandings, disentangle whales and dolphins, and report their findings, therefore adding to the knowledge base so vital for effective marine mammal conservation. Like human first responders who help one another in major tragedies, the network of stranding responders throughout the country provides support during critical national and even international emergencies. These human resources were utilized most recently when stranding network members were called to respond to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the recent mass strandings of dolphins near Cape Cod.
The national marine mammal stranding network is only successful because of the huge emotional and financial commitment of its members and the contributions they generate in the form of volunteer time and donations of resources and funds. If the Prescott Grant Program is cut from the federal budget, the work of hundreds of researchers and rescuers will be affected and the science that is being collected and used to monitor marine mammal populations and ocean health will be severely reduced. Please take the opportunity to express your support for continued funding of the John H. Prescott Marine Mammal Rescue Assistance Grant Program.
Visit this site www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/pdfs/health/prescott_report_2001-10final.pdf for further information about the history and accomplishments of the John H. Prescott Marine Mammal Rescue Assistance Grant Program.
To contact your representative and express your support for the Prescott Marine Mammal Rescue Assistance Grant, please visit http://www.congressweb.com/cweb2/index.cfm/siteid/aza.
Guest Blogger: W. Mark Swingle is the Director of Research & Conservation at the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center