VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - As the weather gets warmer and more people head to the beach, the Virginia Aquarium wants to make sure you know what to do if you see a stranded marine animal on our shores.
The Aquarium's message comes after a stranded dolphin died in Texas when people tried to push it back into the water and ride it.
"Seeing a marine mammal or sea turtle can feel surreal and exciting, and the urge to help an animal in distress can be overwhelming, but we encourage the public to safely and respectfully give the wild animal space if found stranded on shore or injured in the water," said Mackenzie Di Nardo, the public relations manager for the Virginia Aquarium.
Di Nardo said that if you see a stranded marine mammal or sea turtle, do not approach the animal or try to give it aid without expert guidance or instruction. Instead, call the Virginia Aquarium's Stranding Response hotline at (757) 385-7575 and report the stranded animal.
The Stranding Response Program will then examine the animal and, if alive, help to determine the most humane course of action for the situation.
The Virginia Aquarium stressed that the hotline should be contacted if you ever see whales, dolphins, porpoises, manatees or sea turtles on the beach. As for seals, most are healthy and simply resting; if a lone seal appears to be in distress or stays in one place for more than 8 hours, call the hotline.
According to Di Nardo, marine mammals are federally protected. Attempts to touch, feed, water or disturb them are against the law under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and/or Endangered Species Act.