Responding to strandings in North America

Stranding response and rescue are one of the foundations of Whale and Dolphin Conservation’s (WDC) North American Office. As a result, the staff of WDC-North America has more than 20 years of stranding response and research experience.

To this day, WDC works to, not only save stranded marine mammals, but to use data captured from strandings to save populations in the wild.  WDC is committed to ensuring that strandings are not an avenue for captivity and has formally opposed requests by captive facilities to obtain stranded animals for display. To ensure that animals were not unnecessarily held in rehab facilities for profit, WDC was instrumental in blocking a request that would allow these facilities to charge fees to observe animals undergoing rehab.

For over twenty years, WDC staff has responded to reports of live, injured and dead whales, dolphins, porpoises and seals along coastal Massachusetts year round. WDC staff members were some of the first biologists to establish the current stranding response protocols in the Northeast Region of the United States during the early 1990s.  Working with peers to establish a process that was focused on animal welfare and conservation they developed protocols leading to the successful beach release of dozens of animals. Today all WDC (NA) staff members are trained in stranding response and participate in trainings for volunteers in their region.

WDC (NA) is able to use data and reports from strandings to support protective conservation measures through our work on federally appointed Take Reduction Teams, reducing impacts of entanglements and our work to reduce vessel strikes.  Our field research has documented live sightings of tagged dolphins demonstrating that stranded animals can be successfully released from the beach, reducing the need for captive rehab or the question of whether these animals should be euthanized.

Through our responses, we have documented unusual species; animals injured or killed by human impacts, and successfully transported animals from harmful situations.  As part of the regional necropsy team, WDC participates in data collections that lead to findings on disease and human impacts. Understanding both the cause of the stranding and why the animal died can be used to protect wild populations from suffering similar fates.

When responding to strandings, WDC works under the authorization of Regional Stranding Networks who have obtained a Letter of Authorization from NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program (MMHSRP). MMHSRP holds a scientific research permit (Permit No. 932-1905-MA-009526) to conduct necropsy examinations on marine mammals. It is advised that individuals never approach a stranded marine mammal. In the United States, Marine mammals are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act. It is illegal to touch, disturb, feed or otherwise harass marine mammals without authorization. If you are concerned about an animal, please call your local stranding hotline.