The National Aquarium is a private, nonprofit aquatic education and conservation organization whose mission is to inspire conservation of the world’s aquatic treasures. While we are not a federally-operated facility, we depend on many federal partners to fulfill our mission, as do many private zoos, aquariums, and conservation organizations. Our Animal Rescue division at the National Aquarium, along with all of our stranding response associates, has felt a real impact from the government shutdown.
Our Animal Rescue division is federally permitted to respond to and rehabilitate sick and injured marine mammals (dolphins, whales, seals, etc) and sea turtles.
The on-going shutdown has had impacted our daily operations in several different ways:
- Reduced response area and capacity to respond to sick or injured marine mammals and sea turtles on federal property. Over half of the Atlantic coast of Maryland is federal property, which includes Assateague Island National Seashore. With limited staffing, patrols of the federal beach have subsided, as has reporting of animals in need and access to those potential animals.
- Slowed investigation of the on-going Unusual Mortality Event (UME) affecting bottlenose dolphins along the mid-Atlantic. The ongoing federal investigation into the bottlenose dolphin UME that is suspected to be a result of an outbreak of dolphin morbillivirus, has been slowed by the shutdown. Private stranding facilities are still actively responding to stranded dolphins (where they can access them on non-federal property) and taking samples from the animals, but those samples have been delayed in shipping for testing due to the shutdown, and the investigation has slowed.
- Skewed data for UME response and normal stranding operations. In areas that don’t have access to federal coastal property during the shutdown, there has been a perceived change in annual stranding data, with a lack of information coming from federal areas. This has been true for the ongoing UME, with lower numbers being reported in areas that have coastal federal response areas. We are also preparing for a possible increase in stranding numbers once the federal areas return to normal operation and report the potential ‘backlog’ cases.
Despite the government shutdown, stranding facilities have banded together to assist each other and continue to plan the response for the on-going Unusual Mortality Event. Our perseverance and continual communication with each other has allowed us to stay on task as much as possible during the shutdown, and fill the shoes of those federal entities that we normally report to on a daily basis.