Marine Wildlife Strandings

What are they causes and how you can help?

Marine wildlife that live and feed in the waters off New England occasionally strand along ocean beaches or in tidal marshes. If the animal strands alive, it could be sick, injured or entrapped. Or the animal could be disorientated, unable to determine the direction back into deep water. If the animal is dead, it may have died while still offshore and then water currents carried the body onto the beach area.

View our stranding reports for the years 2007 and 2008. Information and photographs used to create these reports are provided by NECWA staff and associates working together to assist live animals that strand along our beaches or to document the presence of carcasses that wash ashore.

For more recent stranding information including necropsies conducted by NECWA staff and interns, check our NECWA News blog.

Please be aware that in the United States, many marine animals including whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals and sea turtles are protected by the Marine Mammal Act of 1972 and/or the Endangered Species Act of 1973. This means that it is illegal to touch, harass or harm these animals in any way. Even the best of intentions can lead to the harassment of an animal that appears to be in need of assistance. Therefore, the best way to help stranded marine wildlife is to seek immediate assistance from government and non-government organizations that are part of the Northeast Region Stranding Network.

Find here the organization closest to where you live.

Often, the first person to come upon a stranded animal is someone who is walkingA washed ashore dead ocean sunfish. Photo courtesy of NECWA. on the beach for enjoyment or exercise. Actions taken by this person provide the first link in a chain of important responses that involve both government and non-government organizations. For live animals that beach themselves, a quick response time is key to a successful outcome, which would mean immediate release back into the wild or rehabilitation with plans for future release. For dead animals, examining a carcass in what is termed an animal necropsy provides important insights into the biology and ecology of these magnificent creatures.

All types of coastal marine wildlife strand along our shorelines, including large and small whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals, ocean sunfish, basking sharks and sea turtles. Often, only one animal comes ashore in what is called a solitary stranding event. However, there are times when two or more animals strand together in what is called a mass-stranding event. Strandings of multiple animals present their own unique set of challenges, but all stranding events must be addressed using similar strategies and procedures.

The federal government has established a Northeast Region Stranding Network A humback whale that stranded in Chatham. Photo courtesy of NECWA.comprised of government and non-government organizations working together on stranding issues. Each organization is given jurisdiction over specific bay and ocean beaches creating areas that can stretch thousands of miles. And each stranding center within the Northeast Region Stranding Network creates its own response team that is supported by public volunteers who are trained as stranding responders.

There are many reasons why marine animals strand along our beaches and in our coastal marshes. At the time of the stranding, it is often impossible to determine the cause of the event. Only after scientists have had a chance to examine all the data and facts concerning the incident are they able to better understand why the event occurred. Whatever the initial cause of the stranding, your actions as a responder are extremely important especially if the animal strands alive. Listed below are also some simple dos and don’ts that will help you provide the most appropriate response if you come upon a stranded marine animal.

Listed below are links for each of the stranding centers that are part of the Northeast Region Stranding Network. Check out their web sites and give them a call to find out the date of their next available training session for volunteers.A closeup of a dead pilot whale showing its teeth. Photo courtesy of NECWA.

Also, download our free Marine Wildlife Response Card specifically designed by NECWA staff. This card has specific information as to what groups or organizations are interested in sightings of live or dead coastal marine wildlife. Carry this card on your boat or in your backpack and use it as your guide to contact interested parties about sightings marine animals you observe offshore or on the beach. Your efforts will help save animals that are stranded or entangled and will also help scientists better understand the unique coastal marine wildlife that share our shores.

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Please also take a look at our NECWA News blog to keep updated on strandings in our area that NECWA staff and interns participated in.
We will report and post them on the blog as they occur.

Dos and Don’ts for Responders

  1. Call the appropriate stranding center to alert them to the presence of a stranded animal.
    • Provide important information that can be used to relocate the animal.
    • Provide observational information on the overall health and condition of the animal - i.e., changes in breathing, levels of alertness, presence of bleeding, etc.
  2. Monitor activities on the beach to keep curious and often well meaning people away from the animal.
    • Keep pets and wild animals away from the animal.
    • Help any responders sent down by the Center to get on scene as quickly as possible.
  3. Make sure that you and others …

If the animal is alive

If the animal is dead

If the animal is entangled in fishing gear

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For more detailed information on participating stranding networks and programs,
visit the NOAA Fisheries, Office of Protected Resources website.

Contact Numbers and Network Centers in Maine

Contact Numbers and Network Centers in New Hampshire

Contact Numbers and Network Centers in Massachusetts

Government Contacts

Contact Numbers and Network Centers in
Connecticut and Rhode Island

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