What to do if you find a live stranded whale or dolphin

The most important thing to do is to urgently seek out expert help. Many countries have strandings networks of experts who are specially trained in how to deal with stranding emergencies and have veterinary specialists associated with them.

Helping Stranded Animals

WARNING! Marine mammals are wild. They can carry diseases which are transferable to humans, and they can cause injury by thrashing their tails or otherwise. Do not put yourself at risk of injury:

Approach with care - if in doubt just wait for help - the most important thing you can do to help is to let the experts know!

Do not attempt to move heavy whales and dolphins without adequate and expert assistance and always wash your hands thoroughly after contact.

Children are particularly at risk from marine mammals and should stay well clear of them.

A. How to help a live stranded whale or dolphin

1. Send for help. The most important thing is to seek out an expert to help. Many countries have "strandings networks" of experts who are specially trained in how to deal with stranding emergencies and have veterinary specialists associated with them. Their involvement will help to ensure that the stranded individuals are treated kindly and appropriately.

In the UK use these numbers to call for help (and for reporting a dead animal).

In the USA call the WDC office. Staff from WDC's North American office in New England volunteer for the Cape Cod Strandings Network (tel. 508 743 9548 to report a stranding) and the New England Aquarium (24hr hotline - 617 973 5247).

2. Calmly approach to make sure the blowhole (through which the whale or dolphin breaths) is not blocked or underwater. If you can find adequate assistance and you are confident in what you are doing it may be helpful to gently roll the individual onto their front (belly), so that the blowhole is facing upwards (whales and dolphins often strand on their sides) and it is helpful to keep their skins wet with water. However, do not at any point pull on its fins or tail and be very careful not to get water down the blowhole.

4. Do not drag the whale or dolphin back to the water. This may cause it a serious injury.

5. Keep people and dogs away - to reduce the stress to which the whale or dolphin is exposed.

6. Wait for expert help and be very careful as these are large, powerful creatures.

B. How to help a live stranded seal or sea lion

Similar considerations apply to these animals. However, seals regularly come out of the sea to rest on the shore and pups are often left alone by their mothers. So, a pup seen on its own can be a perfectly natural occurrence. Adults and pups hauled-out on shore can safely be watched from a distance, but if you approach too closely, the mother may be scared off and abandon the pup.

If you think a seal is sick, injured or abandoned:

Telephone for help.

Keep people and their dogs away.

Do not get close to injured seals or pups, as they can give very nasty bites.

Wait for expert help.

*[Please note that if you do choose to assist a stranded individual you do so at your own risk - WDC cannot be held liable for any damage or injury suffered to persons or property resulting from the assistance of stranded whales or dolphins.]

Rescue of Ben, the orca in New Zealand