Southeast U.S. Marine Mammal Stranding Network

Southeast U.S. Marine Mammal Stranding Network 1-877-WHALE HELP (1-877-942-5343)

Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), NOAA Fisheries is responsible for conserving dolphins, whales, seals and sea lions in the United States. NOAA Fisheries Southeast Region includes North Carolina through Texas, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. NOAA Fisheries authorizes organizations and their volunteers, under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, to respond to marine mammal strandings. These authorized organizations are the Southeast Region Stranding Network, and include trained responders and veterinarians who respond to and rehabilitate live stranded marine mammals and investigate dead stranded marine mammals. NOAA Fisheries and the Stranding Network coordinate responses to stranding events, monitor stranding rates, monitor human-caused mortalities, maintain a stranding database, and conduct investigations to determine the cause of unusual stranding events, such as mass strandings and mortalities. If you see a dead, live stranded, or injured marine mammal in the Southeast U.S., immediately call the Southeast U.S. Marine Mammal Stranding Network Hotline: 1-877-WHALE HELP (1-877-942-5343). Once a stranded marine mammal is reported to the hotline, a trained network responder will arrive on scene to evaluate the situation. If the animal is alive, the animal’s health will be assessed by an authorized veterinarian. Based on the condition of the live animal, it will be released, taken to an authorized rehabilitation facility, or euthanized. In many cases, animals that strand are in poor condition and the most humane option to prevent suffering is euthanasia. If the stranded animal is dead, a necropsy (animal autopsy) will either be conducted on the beach or in a special necropsy lab. If the necropsy is conducted on the beach, the remains will either be buried or taken off-site. Even if the dead stranded marine mammal is decomposed, stranding network members can still collect data and samples to gain useful information.

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What can we learn from marine mammal strandings?

Strandings provide scientists and managers with important information on the biology and health of marine mammals and, in turn, the health of our marine ecosystems. They provide basic information on the biology and ecology of marine mammal species, such as an animal’s range, age, the types of prey it consumes, and the occurrence of diseases within populations. In fact, some marine mammal species are known only from stranded animals. Strandings also provide important information on human impacts to marine mammals. Data collected from stranded animals teach us about interactions between marine mammals and fisheries, vessels, or marine debris. Samples collected from stranded marine mammals also provide information on marine pollution. For example, a dolphin that may have high levels of chemical contaminants in their body could have direct implications for human health, as they consume many of the same fish that we do.