Whales and dolphins stranded - WHAT TO DO and how to assist plus phones references and links to help and save whale or dolphin stranded on beach

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What To Do To Help In Whale and Dolphin Stranding
Last Link Check: 30 October 2006    Last updated: 17 July 2002

Links to this page:
Click here for Hotline Phones
Click here for Whale/Dolphin Main Page

Steps On What To Do:

  • Always call for expert help. But first, several considerations:
  • Most Important: The blowhole at the top of a whale's or dolphin's head is its breathing apparatus. Be sure that water and sand do not enter it. If an animal is lying on its side or on its back and its blowhole is exposed to waves or is covered, the whale or dolphin should be turned onto its belly being sure not to cause damage to or bend its fins or tail, and being sure that there are no sharp objects lying around which could cause damage.

  • Sudden movements of a tail, or the animal being rolled by incoming surf can cause severe injury to people. Do not stand near the tail of an animal, or on the beach side of a whale or dolphin in surf.

  • If it is not clear that a whale or dolphin is alive, its breathing can be checked by observation of the blowhole. For a dolphin, the blowhole will contract every 15-30 seconds but for a large whale, the contractions may be only once every 20 minutes (see More info).

  • Sea lions and seals
    Sea lions and seals or their young often come onto land for a short period before returning to the sea or during the time that the mother is hunting for food. Handling of a seal pup, besides being dangerous when the mother is around, may break the bond between mother and pup and may lead to its starvation death. It often takes many hours to accurately decide that a baby is indeed abandoned. Be sure to wait without approaching it while protecting it from other animals which could cause it harm or stress. Also be aware that seals injured or not have been known to bite and the bite can cause serious infection. If you need to protect the seal from harm, corral into a safe place by using something like a clean garbage can cover, or a board but do not touch them with it or handle them.

  • Survival time of stranded whales and dolphins
    Whales and dolphins can survive a long period of time (up to two days) if they are protected from dangers and are kept wet.

    Many sea mammals are protected by law
    and should not be handled or moved without expert help. Any help which you do give is given at your own risk entirely.

  • Calling for Help
    In general, in most places in the world, there are specially trained individuals who have rescued and released stranded marine mammals successfully. Always attempt to contact help. Normally, local telephone information services will have emergency numbers and/or information regarding who to contact.
    Have as much as possible of the following information when you call: Exact location, type of animal and description of bodily features, its breathing rate, how many animals there are, approximate size, coloring, physical condition, apparent wounds, kind of beach stranded on - sand or rock, and whether animal is in or out of the surf, rescue attempts already made. And if you can be contacted, your number.

  • What to do after calling for help
    There are certain things which can be done after help has been called and you are waiting.
    These relate to overheating and stress which can kill the animals, and to the safety of individuals who are attempting to help or who are simply curious.

  • On-lookers, and would be helpers should keep their distance in order not to unduly stress the animal(s) and also to protect themselves. Be sure to keep dogs away from the scene. Someone should be put in charge of controlling the crowd of onlookers.

  • To repeat from above: Sudden movements of a tail, or the animal being rolled by incoming surf can cause severe injury to people. Do not stand near the tail of an animal, or on the beach side of a whale or dolphin in surf.

  • Do not attempt to move the whale or dolphin without the proper equipment and expertise, since the weight of the animal will cause severe scrapping of the skin, damage to internal organs, damage to the flippers and tail, and will normally be unsuccessful in the end. In no instance attempt to move it by its flippers or by pulling it by the tail or tail stock by human power, machine or boat. If an animal is rolled onto its flippers, irreparable damage can be caused. Do not allow an animal to roll onto its back so that the blowhole is covered.

  • To protect from overheating:
       1 To prevent overheating and sunburn of whales and dolphins, it is necessary to keep them constantly wet. This is true even if stranded in surf, if the surf does not completely cover them with spray. One extremely important precaution: these mammals breathe through the blowhole at the top of the head, and water allowed to enter it may cause drowning or significant stress. Be sure to keep sand and water from entering the blowhole.

       2 Whales and dolphins must be constantly kept wet with pails of water or wet towels which takes much dedication by a number of people particularly if there are a large number of animals.

       3 It can be helpful to cover with sheets or seaweed (except for the blowhole) and keep them constantly wet.

       4 Since the flippers and tail help cool the body by acting to lose heat rapidly, dig holes in the sand around the flippers and tail and keep them filled with water.

       5 Guard against sunburn The sheeting used to cover and keep the animal wet, will also help guard against sunburn.

       6 Providing some sort of shade if possible will guard against sunburn and also cut down on the evaporation of water.

       7 Sun block or sunscreen without oil can be applied but these should not be rubbed into the skin. Do not apply sun tanning lotions.

  • Animals must not be dragged. They must be picked up and transported.
    For large animals, heavy equipment is necessary in some cases.
    For small mammals, this can be done with a number of individuals using a tarpaulin.

    However, the following should be taken into consideration:
    1 Wait for the tide to come in before attempting to do anything.
    2 Make sure that the fins and tail are not pinched, twisted, bent or allowed to drag, and that the whole body is supported. Using a digger's bucket is not an option.
    3 Floatation devises have been successful and a number of rescue teams have these at different locations.
    4 If there is the possibility of constant rebeaching or the conditions are not good at the present location, transport to another location with deep water and reintroduce into the water, together as a group, should be attempted.

  • Rescuers Safety and well being
    Helpers should be aware of their own physical condition. Being in the water for too long or exposed to the sun can cause medical emergency situations for the rescuers. Be sure to constantly monitor yourself or others on the team.

  • If in the end nothing seems to help, or restranding continually takes place, or rescue is not available or possible, read the last two paragraphs of Irish Dophins

    If expert help is not available

    If expert help is not available, the following should be taken into consideration: Remember, all rescue attempts of whales or dolphins take a great deal of planning, forethought and coordination.

    If only one animal is involved, the possibility of restranding after successful release is relatively low.

    Where there are a number of individual whales or dolphins stranded, the social bonding between them is far stronger than we usually suppose, making restranding entirely likely and rescue extremely difficult if it is not done correctly.

    If you are fortunate to be on the scene at the beginning of a stranding, members of the group which are still at sea prior to stranding, may be kept from stranding although this is a difficult and lengthy process. However, this is generally not the case, and so the major task is to keep individuals from restranding after they have been successfully freed until the remaining members are released into the water, and sometimes even after the successful completion of refloating the entire group if the main reason for their stranding still exists.

  • Steps outlined above are a condensation of the following pages:
    Parks and Wildlife Tasmania How to Help
    Irish Dolphins Irishdolphins.com
    Irish Whale and Dolphin Group Strandings Guidelines - Face To Face With A Beached Whale
    Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society Rescue Procedures by WDCS no longer available.
    Marine Mammal Center California What To Do
    FOR SEALS - The Irish Seal Sanctuary what to do if you find a pup

Marine Mammals Ashore Second Edition
"With the support of a Prescott Grant and the NMFS Office of Protected Resources, the National Aquarium in Baltimore published the second edition of Marine Mammals Ashore: A Field Guide for Strandings by J.R. Geraci and V.J. Lounsbury. Since its initial publication in 1993, this field guide has provided countless numbers of marine mammal rehabilitators and scientists around the world with information vital to successful response, rehabilitation, and release of marine mammals.

The second edition includes more detailed information on natural and human-related mortality, zoonoses and public health issues, network organization and public education, and animal release and monitoring, as well as new and updated protocols for specimen and data collection and responding to unusual mortality events..."
For further information and how to order NOAA Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program (MMHSRP) source

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