The GCAHFS manages the Marine Mammal and Turtle Conservation, Recovery, and Monitoring Program, which is a collaboration between Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine and the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies (IMMS) in Gulfport, Mississippi. These projects focus on marine mammal and sea turtle health and diagnostic investigations in the Mississippi Sound. The GCAHFS also liaises with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which oversees marine mammal and sea turtle strandings and necropsies.
The Marine Mammal and Turtle Conservation, Recovery, and Monitoring program bolsters the capacity of Mississippi’s marine mammal and sea turtle stranding network, improves response to injured or dead animals, and develops a consistent scientific understanding of the causes of mortality to inform management actions in the state.
The Mississippi Sound is home to the nation’s largest bay, sound, and estuarine population of common bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus). The Sound serves as a nursery ground for newborn dolphin calves in the spring and summer months and provides vital foraging habitat for dolphins year-round. The Mississippi Sound is also home to the most critically endangered sea turtle in the world, the Kemp’s ridley (Lepidochelys kempii), along with other endangered or threatened sea turtle species, such as the loggerhead (Caretta caretta) and the green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas). Juvenile Kemp’s ridley sea turtles use the Mississippi Sound for development, foraging on the abundant blue crabs. To effectively manage the health of these animals, rapid response to stranded animals and effective investigations into cause of death are essential.
Project components seek to 1) bolster state partnerships and enhance stranding network capacity, 2) perform health and mortality assessments, and 3) rehabilitate and release injured sea turtles.
The Marine Mammal and Turtle Conservation, Recovery, and Monitoring program is funded by a $6.5 million grant from the Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, which is administered by the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality.