Marine Mammal Strandings Project
For live strandings please call British Divers Marine Life Rescue on 01825 765546 (office hours) or 07787 433412 (out of hours)
If you find a dead stranded animal please contact the strandings network on 0800 652 0333
The marine mammal strandings project was set up by Defra following the mass die-off of common seals in the North Sea in 1988. The purpose of the project is to monitor the health status of marine mammals and marine turtles in UK waters by examining animals that are found washed up dead on the shores. Fresh carcasses can give useful information on prey species through analysis of stomach contents, parasite burdens, pollutant levels of metals and organochlorines and give early indications of infectious diseases in these populations.
By keeping accurate records of all strandings, an indication of what species occur around the UK can be built up and records of mortality can quickly highlight unusual numbers of strandings flagging up potential problems.
The collaborative project is implemented in Wales by Marine Environmental Monitoring and funded by the Welsh Assembly Government and Natural Resources Wales.
To report a live stranded animal please contact:
British Divers Marine Life Rescue 01825 765 546 (office hours) or 07787 433 412 (out of office hours)
RSPCA (England and Wales) 0300 1234 999
What to do if you find an animal in distress
If you find a live seal:
Watch it from a distance. Do not approach the animal. Seals regularly haul out on our coasts – it is part of their normal behaviour and in fact they spend more time out of the water, digesting their food and resting. Therefore, finding a seal on the beach does not necessarily mean there is a problem and they should not be chased back into the sea as this may stop them from doing what they need to do – rest. A healthy seal should be left well alone.
After stormy weather and high tides, it is usual for seals to come out onto beaches to rest and re-gather their strength. Many do not need first aid but it is important to control disturbance by stopping other people and their animals from approaching the seal.
However, if there is a problem, there are a number of things you may see:
- Abandoned: If you see a seal with a white, long-haired coat in the autumn/winter, or you see a small seal (less than 3 feet in length) alone between June and August, then it is probably still suckling from its mother. Check the sea regularly for any sign of an adult seal
- Thin: Signs of malnutrition include visible ribs, hips and neck and perhaps a rather baggy, wrinkled skin
- Sick: Signs of ill health include coughing, sneezing or noisy, rapid breathing and possibly thick mucus coming from the nose; wounds or swellings, particularly on the flippers, and possibly favouring one flipper when moving (although remember that healthy seals will often lie and ‘hunch along’ on their sides); cloudy eyes, or thick mucus around them, or possibly one eye kept closed most of the time; a seal showing little response to any disturbance going on around it (although remember they could be soundly asleep)
If you find a live whale, dolphin or porpoise:
A whale, dolphin or porpoise stranded on the beach is obviously not a usual phenomenon. These animals do not beach themselves under normal circumstances, and they will require assistance. Please do not return them to the sea as they may need a period of recovery before they are fit enough to swim strongly.
Important things you can do to help are:
- Provide essential first aid
- Support the animal in an upright position and dig trenches under the pectoral fins
- Cover the animal with wet sheets or towels (even seaweed) and keep it moist by spraying or dousing with water
- Do NOT cover, or let any water pass down the blowhole (nostril), sited on top of the animal’s head. This will cause the animal great distress and could even kill it
- Every movement around a stranded animal should be quiet, calm and gentle. Excessive noise and disturbance will only stress it further
- Estimate the length of the animal and look for any distinguishing feature that may give clues as to the species you are dealing with
- Look for any signs of injury and count the number of breaths (opening of the blowhole) that occur over a minute – this can give important clues as to how stressed the animal is
- Take great care when handling a dolphin, porpoise or whale; keep away from the tail, as it can inflict serious injuries – this is particularly the case with whales and it is advisable to leave handling larger whales until experienced help has arrived. Avoid the animal’s breath, as it may carry some potentially nasty bacteria
- Under no circumstances release the animal into the sea before the rescue team has arrived. It is fine to support a smaller dolphin or porpoise in the water, as long as the blowhole is kept above the water at all times, and as long as it is carried to the water carefully, e.g. in a tarpaulin (do NOT drag it or lift it by its fins or tail). However, actually releasing the animal before it has received an assessment and first aid from experienced personnel can do more harm than good
Sowerbys Beaked Whale Rescue
This story starts with a telephone to our Marine Wildlife Centre from the RSPCA. A bottlenose dolphin had live stranded and help was needed to try and refloat and return the dolphin to the sea.
As we dashed to the scene and scrambled up the cliff tops – the only way to get access to the secluded beach – we learnt by phone that we were not infact rushing to the aid of a dolphin, but infact a rare beaked whale. The last recorded stranding of a Sowerbys was in Swansea in 1938! Looking down from the cliff tops we could see the whale still moving on the beach below. We quickly climbed down and before we knew it we were in the water up to our waists. Using a special stretcher, and along with a local vet and other RSPCA officers we attempted to keep the whale above the waters surface to enable it to breath.
As an hour passed we took it in turns to return to the water and hold the whale as a team. Sadly the water was too cold to venture deeper and so we had to retreat from the cold water and let the officers take the whale out further in their dry suits as it began to show signs of recovery. Held before the breaking waves the whale appeared to regain some of its strength! Moving its head up and down and beginning to kick it was released from its stretcher before what seemed like an eternity as we waited to see if it had the strength to take to the water and swim back out to the ocean. The seconds passed as it continued to lift its head and take ever deeper breaths, and then with three huge kicks – it was gone! All we saw was a dorsal fin as it swam away and then vanished.
A fantastic ending to a rescue we were proud to have been involved within. A huge thank you to all the members concerned on the day that a sowerbys beaked whale visited our shores.