Posted by: Karen Fowler
Marine animals are considered stranded when they are trapped outside their natural environment for an extended period of time. This includes beached marine animals trapped outside of their normal ocean range, stuck on beaches, and unable to return to deeper water. Not only do large marine mammals, like whales and dolphins, occasionally end up beached, but smaller sea animals that are able to ashore, including seals or turtles, too, if they are unable to return to the water when necessary.
Marine animals may become beached for a number of reasons; illness and injury being the most common. A healthy animal, however, may also end up beached, due to weather, current changes, or a run-in with a ship. These incidents all leave marine mammals weak and disoriented, causing them to wash ashore.
Mass stranding of whales and dolphins is also common. Scientists have several theories regarding the causes of mass beachings. Group behavior is only one of the main causes of mass beachings. A pod of dolphins or whales can become trapped while following the distress call of a single injured member. A pod's interaction with other animal groups may also result in being beached. The pod may follow more nimble animals too close to shore or be forced into a shallow area by predators. Disruptions to the marine environment may also cause strandings. Scientists theorize that disruptions in the earth's magnetic field, undersea earthquakes, and manufactured sonar may injure or interfere with marine animals' ability to navigate.
Finding a Beached Animal
The most important part of helping a stranded animal is to immediately seek assistance from trained rescue professionals. Do not touch, or attempt to move, the animal by yourself. Contact your local rescue organization and follow their instructions. It is important that you keep your distance, as a disoriented or sick animal could easily harm an untrained individual or spread pathogens. Touching the animal could also increase its stress levels and cause further damage.
For semi-aquatic animals, like seals and sea turtles, observe the animal and consider your region's animal population before contacting a wildlife group; as these animals can spend significant amount of time on the beach, contact officials if it looks distressed or distinctly out of place.
When rescue teams arrive, they will assess the situation. If the animal is stable, they will quickly transport it to a rescue facility for rehabilitation, if needed. If the animal is in distress, they may take steps to stabilize it before moving. First aid for any specie of animal may differ and it is imperative that any actions be left to those most qualified.
It is important to note that beaching or standing of marine animals is a very serious, dangerous, yet natural, occurrence. Beached animals may be fatally injured, if there is no human intervention; and even then, the animal may still suffer from, or succumb to, underlying issues that led to the stranding or the effects of its time ashore.
How You Can Help
If you would like to help beached animals, contact your local marine rescue and rehabilitation group. These groups are often funded by donations and staffed by volunteers. They will advise you on the best way you help. Rescue groups often need field volunteers to monitor local beaches or assist with rehabilitating injured animals. Other organizations may need help with fundraising or educating the public.
Here are a few links for additional information on beached sea animals and resources about their aid and rescue:
  • Finding a Stranded Marine Animal: This is a guide from the University of New England which provides instructions as to what to do if you find a beached sea animal.
  • Reporting Stranded Sea Animals: The National Marine Fisheries Service Regions provides a directory of hotlines for reporting beached marine animals.
  • Danger Caused by Military Sonars: The Natural Resources Defense Council provides this article that discusses how sonars harm marine life.
  • Marine Mammal Rescue Teams: The Marine Mammal Center conducts land and sea rescues of stranded sea animals along the California coast.
  • IFAW: Support Marine Animal Rescues: Learn about opportunities aid the International Fund for Animal Welfare's Marine Mammal Rescue and Research program.
  • Stranded Seals: Find out more about seal stranding issues in the Northeast with this informative article from Allied Whale, a research and rescue group affiliated with College of the Atlantic.
  • Dolphin Rescue Information: A resource that provides first aid tips for dolphins and ways you can help provide support for dolphin rescues.
  • Reasons for Marine Mammal Stranding: This article from the Georgia Marine Mammal Stranding Database provides a brief overview of the main causes of beached sea animals.
  • Understanding Why Sea Animals Strand: The Whale and Dolphin Conservation covers possible reasons for single and multiple whale and dolphin stranding incidents.
  • Stranded Whales - Causes: The Field Museum provides a simple summary of why whale strandings occur.
  • Aiding Stranded Dolphins: A step-by-step article from The Institute for Marine Mammal Studies provides detailed directions for what you should do if you see a beached dolphin.
  • Helping Stranded Animals: This guide from the New England Aquarium's Marine Rescue Team gives basic information on specific steps you should depending on the type of stranded sea animal you encounter.
  • "Adopt" Stranded Sea Turtles: The South Carolina Aquarium's Sea Turtle Rescue Program has a unique way for patron to help rehabilitate stranded sea turtles
  • Mass Strandings and Kinship: This news article provides an overview of new research developments regarding the belief that the mass strandings of whales were tied to kinship groups.