What should you do if you see a dead or live stranded marine mammal?

Immediately call the Southeast Region Stranding Network 24-hour hotline: 
1-877-WHALE HELP (1-877-942-5343)
to be connected to your state’s marine mammals stranding network.The stranding network will send out trained responders who will get to the scene quickly with appropriate equipment.

All marine mammals are federally protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). Only local and state officials and people authorized by NOAA Fisheries may legally handle live and dead marine mammals.


  • DON’T push the animal back out to sea! Stranded marine mammals may be sick or injured. Returning animals to sea delays examination and treatment and often results in the animal re-stranding in worse condition.
  • If the animal returns to the water on its own, DON’T attempt interact with it (swim with, ride, etc.).
  • DO put human safety above animal safety. If conditions are dangerous, do not attempt to approach the animal.
  • DO stay with the animal until rescuers arrive, but use caution. Marine mammals can be dangerous and/or carry disease. Keep a safe distance from the head and tail. Also, minimize contact with the animal (use gloves if necessary) and avoid inhaling the animal’s expired air.
  • If the animal is alive, DO keep its skin moist and cool by splashing water over its body. Use wet towels to help keep the skin moist and prevent sunburn.
  • If the animal is alive, DON’T cover or obstruct the blowhole. Try to keep sand and water away from the blowhole.
  • DO keep crowds away and noise levels down to avoid causing further stress to the animal.
  • DO report all dead marine mammals, even if they are decomposed.
  • DO keep dogs/pets away from the live or dead marine mammal.
  • DON’T collect any parts (tissues, teeth, bones, or gear, etc.) from dead animals. They are still covered by the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
What is a stranding?

Marine mammals are sometimes found sick, injured, or dead along our beaches. They can also become entrapped or disoriented and unable to return to their natural habitat without assistance. These events are called strandings and require investigation by trained Marine Mammal Stranding Network personnel.

When reporting a stranded marine mammal, questions you can be expect to be asked include:

1. Is the marine mammal alive?
2. What is the exact location of the animal?
3. What species is the animal, if known, or describe the animal’s size, color, and physical characteristics.
4. How many animals are there?
5. What are the current environmental conditions? (weather, sea state, tide)
6. How can you be contacted?

Image of Stranded Dolphins