Take action to help marine life: Mote’s Stranding Investigations Program

Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium’s Stranding Investigation Program responds to calls of “stranded” (i.e., injured or deceased) sea turtles, manatees, dolphins and whales in Sarasota and Manatee county areas. We are experiencing significantly greater standings of sea turtles and manatees in our area due to Florida red tide. Simple actions such as IMMEDIATELY reporting a stranded animal to Mote’s 24/7 hotline, 888-345-2335, can help our team respond faster to save an animal’s life and efficiently collect data on the animals that have passed to aid in statewide management efforts.

Every animal, deceased or alive, matters

Rapid response to live stranded animals is not the only way the team works to contribute to the conservation of our local marine species. The information gathered during necropsy (animal autopsy) helps to evaluate the long-term mortality trends of these species, especially as it relates to pathology or human-related activities. Such research data are crucial to species management and conservation, and data from necropsies conducted by Mote’s Stranding Investigations Program are provided to state and federal wildlife managers as part of databases of stranding network partners.

Mote encourages all residents, visitors and area businesses that are on the water or on the beach to follow important tips below to help Mote respond to the needs of our local marine life.

Stranded sea turtles: CALL Mote at 888-345-2335. Take photos and videos to aid our response team

Sea turtles that are in distress may present with one of more of the following signs:
  • Erratic swimming behavior: animal appears to have trouble submerging or diving down, is struggling through waves, uncoordinated flipper movement, etc.
  • Lethargic behavior and/or cold-stress: animal is floating at the surface or overly covered in barnacles, algae, etc.
  • Entanglements: animal is entangled dragging fishing gear, is accidentally caught on a line, caught in plastic/other debris. DO NOT attempt to remove yourself
  • Watercraft collisions: animal has large fresh wounds across the back
  • Something seems off but it’s not on this list - better safe than sorry, so CALL!

Sea turtles that are coming onto the beach to lay their nest are not in distress. While most sea turtle nesting occurs during the night, our region does see an occasional daytime nester. If you see a sea turtle coming on land to nest during the daytime, DO NOT interact with the turtle. For these non-stranding situations, please contact Mote’s Sea Turtle Conservation & Research Program at 941-388-4331. For general tips related to sea turtle nesting friendly practices, visit mote.org/2021nesting

Stranded manatees: CALL Mote at 888-345-2335. Take photos and videos to aid our response team

Manatees that are in distress may present with one or more of the following signs:

  • Erratic swimming behavior: animal appears to have trouble submerging or diving down, is barrel-rolling excessively in the water, is struggling through waves, etc.
  • Entanglements: animal is entangled in fishing gear, caught on other debris, etc. DO NOT attempt remove yourself
  • Watercraft collisions: animal has large fresh wounds
  • Cold-stress: animal is lethargic and has white spots around face
  • Tidal stranding: animal travels into a canal/waterway during high tide and does not have a way to escape during low tide
  • Orphaned calves: small manatees (less than four feet in length) should not be without their mothers and need immediate assistance
  • Something seems off but it’s not on this list - better safe than sorry, so CALL!

Manatee mating behavior is very active. It involves multiple males pursuing a female, and can be a very splashy endeavor. While this behavior is natural, if you’re not sure what is happening, take photos and video to provide to our team, who might be able to advise on the situation without mounting a response.

What threats do our marine animals face

Sarasota and Manatee area marine animals can face a variety of human-caused and natural threats, including the current patchy bloom of Florida red tide that has persisted since December 2020. This summer, the Stranding Investigations team has responded to over 100 sea turtles affected by Florida red tide.

Florida red tides are caused by a microscopic alga, Karenia brevis, that produces a neurotoxin, called brevetoxin. When animals ingest brevetoxins, either through food or inhalation, it can cause erratic behavior, such as strange swimming patterns, and potentially death. The good news? Rehabilitation of animals affected by brevetoxin is generally successful if the animal is reached in time. Clean water, air and food, alongside supportive care and a watchful eye, quickly puts animals on the path to recovery. In these cases, time is of the essence, so members of the public are highly encouraged to report any strange marine animal behavior to Mote’s hotline. 

Even during a year with Florida red tide, and especially during years with no bloom, human interactions are still major, preventable causes of stranding for our area’s marine life, including boat strikes, harassment, consumption of marine debris, fishing gear entanglement and more.

General tips for the public to help marine life

Preventing human-caused interactions with wildlife:

  • Abide by slow wake zones
  • Use a spotter on your boat to watch for manatees, sea turtles, and dolphins
  • Use polarized lenses to better detect shapes in the water
  • Do not feed or provide freshwater to marine animals
  • Stow trash and line when under way, as marine debris that accidentally blows overboard or out of a truck can become ingested by or entangled around marine life

Remember what to do when you see a stranded marine animal:

  • Immediately call your local marine animal stranding hotline.
    • In Sarasota and Manatee counties, call Mote at 888-345-2335
    • In other Florida counties, call Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at 888-404-3922
  • Taking photos and videos greatly helps! Photos and videos can allow the team to evaluate the situation prior to arrival, which can greatly aid in response time.
  • If possible, please stand by with the animal until a stranding biologist contacts you.
  • If you see an animal in distress, DO NOT attempt to assist the animal.
    • Animals strand when they are in trouble, and an untrained person pushing back or attempting to intervene with an animal means the animal won’t get the help it needs, and can even cause further harm to the animal or put others in harm’s way.
    • Additionally, large stressed marine animals can also be a dangerous situation for an untrained person.