What NOT to Do When You See a Stranded Marine Mammal

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Recently several sites showed an amazing video recording the arrival, stranding, and “rescue” of a pod of dolphins on the shore of Arraial do Cabo,Brazil. The video, just shy of four minutes, starts with an expanse of serene, blue sea. Later the pod of dolphins is clearly seen arriving en masse on the shore, beaching themselves while staying relatively close together. Several men who appeared to be lifeguards immediately came forward amidst the crowd of beachgoers and started moving the marine mammals. A few beachgoers began helping, trying to save the dolphins as well. Eventually people got the idea that dragging the dolphins by the tail is the easiest way to get them back into the water. At the end of the “rescue”, several people are dragging the last dolphins by the tail toward the sea. At this point, people begin applauding the successful rescue. Watching the “happy ending” to the drama, I felt like joining in. The video ends with the same serene, blue sea, presumably with the rescued dolphins swimming vigorously with their second lease on life. But were they?

Something about the way the dolphins were pulled by their tail across the sand was disturbing. A little research proved the impression true.

It turns out that moving, rolling, dragging, and otherwise returning the stranded marine mammals by force back to the water is not the best thing to do, according to several marine mammal institutes and rescue groups. The stranded marine mammals have beached themselves for a reason, and returning them in this way does not increase their survival and/or recovery. It may seem as both the logical and compassionate thing to do, but it will cause greater harm to the marine mammals. Here’s how you can help a stranded marine mammal when you see one (or many):

1. Do NOT try to move the animal back into the sea. Pushing, picking up, rolling, dragging, or using equipment or boats to return it to the sea will cause damaged flippers and tails, scrapes, and internal organ injuries to the marine mammal, even possibly killing it. Rescuers use a special stretcher for stranded marine mammals and do not use force to move them. Also, these are wild animals and might bite or fight back when humans approach them.

2. Do CALL FOR HELP from marine mammal rescue groups, experts, or relevant authorities in your area. Report the location and your observations of the stranded marine mammal (condition, physical characteristics, markings or identification tags, etc.).

Hotlines to Report Marine Mammal Strandings:

United States

United Kingdom


Pacific Islands

British Columbia, Canada

3. Do TRY to minimize stress due to overheating, crowd presence, and pets/animals. In case of dolphins, take care to keep the blowhole free from sand and water. The following sources further discuss steps you can do to help a stranded/beached marine mammal.

The Marine Mammal Center – provides seven, simple steps in helping stranded marine mammals.

IMMS (Institute for Marine Mammal Studies) – includes steps and illustrations on how to make a proper, wet covering to prevent the stranded marine mammal from overheating and drying.

WDCS (Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society) – provides short steps for helping live stranded whales, dolphins, and seals/sea lions.

Global Crisis Solution Center – provides an informative set of steps for helping whale and dolphin stranding, condensed from several sources.

Human compassion to help vulnerable, helpless animals is one of our best traits. Even a young child will exhibit a desire to help an injured animal without adults telling him or her. The heart to aid an animal in distress or need coupled with the right information on how to best do so will make the difference between a successful rescue and a good natured intervention gone wrong.


Photo Credit: Some rights reserved by Andrew G Young on Flickr.

Estel M.
About Estel M. (339 Posts)

Estel Grace Masangkay is a creative writer who enjoys outdoor trips and nature activities. She is passionate about sustainability and environment conservation. Follow Me @Em23me.

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