What to do if you find a stranded marine mammal in South Australia

What to do if you find a stranded marine mammal in South Australia



See­ing a marine mam­mal strand­ed on the shore can be a con­fronting expe­ri­ence. Here’s what you need to know to help.


When you see a live strand­ed marine mam­mal – a whale, dol­phin, seal or sea lion – your first instinct might be to rush to the ani­mal and imme­di­ate­ly put it back into the water, but there are some things you need to know first, to keep both your­self and the ani­mal safe.

Before you try to assist the ani­mal, it’s best to con­tact your local Nation­al Parks and Wildlife Ser­vice Region­al Duty Offi­cer or marine wildlife res­cue organ­i­sa­tion first. They will be able to pro­vide you with advice over the phone and may send expe­ri­enced per­son­nel with equip­ment to assist with the incident.

Why do ani­mals get stranded?

There are many rea­sons why a whale or dol­phin may strand, includ­ing ill­ness, injury, dis­ori­en­ta­tion, or if a depen­dent calf has been sep­a­rat­ed from its moth­er. It’s impor­tant that you keep this in mind before attempt­ing to help an ani­mal return to the water.

In the case of a very sick or bad­ly injured ani­mal, it may not be in the best inter­est of the ani­mal to return it to the water. A suit­ably trained Nation­al Parks and Wildlife Ser­vice ranger or an expe­ri­enced marine mam­mal vet will under­take an assess­ment where possible.

If a whale or dol­phin con­tin­ues to strand after being returned to the water, this tells us it is like­ly too sick to be returned to sea.

It is com­mon for seals and sea lions to come out of the water for a rest on the beach or rocks. This is not a strand­ing, and you should keep your dis­tance from the ani­mal. If you encounter this sit­u­a­tion while you’re out walk­ing your dog, make sure you keep your dog away too.

What should you do if you find a strand­ed live whale or dolphin?

If you encounter a strand­ed whale or dol­phin, and only if you have appro­pri­ate pro­tec­tive wear on hand (see the sec­tion below about dis­eases), there are a few things that you can do to make the ani­mal more comfortable:

  • Dig out the sand under the animal’s pec­toral fins so they are in a more com­fort­able position.
  • Lim­it noise and talk­ing around the animal.
  • Place a wet tow­el or sheet over the animal’s body, but be sure not to cov­er its blowhole.
  • Keep the sheets or tow­els wet.

You should not:

  • step over the animal
  • walk any­where near its tail flukes
  • let pets near the animal
  • drag the whale or dol­phin back to sea, or pick them up by their pec­toral fins or tail flukes, as this can cause fur­ther injuries.

Remem­ber, before you try to assist the ani­mal, you should con­tact your local Nation­al Parks and Wildlife Ser­vice Region­al Duty Offi­cer for advice first.

What should you do if you find a strand­ed dead whale or dolphin?

If you find a dead whale or dol­phin, con­tact a Nation­al Parks and Wildlife Ser­vice Region­al Duty Offi­cer, or the con­tact the SA Muse­um.

Can these ani­mals be car­ry­ing diseases?

Zoonoses are infec­tious dis­eases caused by pathogens, for exam­ple bac­te­ria, virus­es and par­a­sites, that can spread between ani­mals, includ­ing humans.

Marine mam­mals are known to car­ry a range of zoonoses, and poten­tial­ly zoonot­ic dis­eases, which include Bru­cel­la, gold­en staph, tox­o­plas­mo­sis, Q fever and tuberculosis.

Zoonot­ic dis­eases can be spread by air, passed through direct con­tact, or by com­ing into con­tact with bod­i­ly fluids.

Before help­ing any marine mam­mals, you should pro­tect your­self from poten­tial zoonot­ic dis­eases by wear­ing rub­ber gloves, a face mask, eye pro­tec­tion, long pants and long sleeves, and cov­er up any cuts or abra­sions on your skin.

If you are assist­ing a whale or dol­phin, don’t posi­tion your­self near or down­wind from the animal’s blow hole. Like peo­ple, whales and dol­phins can also spread germs through their breath. When they breathe out through their blow holes, and dis­eases the ani­mal might be car­ry­ing can spread eas­i­ly through the air, espe­cial­ly if it’s windy.

You should also avoid unnec­es­sar­i­ly touch­ing the ani­mal to pre­vent being exposed to bac­te­ria and virus­es and to reduce stress to the animal.

What infor­ma­tion should you report?

A lot of the sci­ence about whales and dol­phins has been learnt through study­ing strand­ed ani­mals. If you come across a strand­ed ani­mal, it’s impor­tant to col­lect as much infor­ma­tion as pos­si­ble, includ­ing tak­ing photos.

Use­ful infor­ma­tion includes the date and time you found the ani­mal, the loca­tion of the strand­ing and the size of the animal.

As for pho­tos, try to cap­ture images of the whole ani­mal from dif­fer­ent views, as well as close-up shots of the animal’s head, dor­sal fin, flip­pers and tail. Includ­ing an object in your pho­tos for scale is also useful.

This infor­ma­tion, along with your name and con­tact details, can be sent to your local Nation­al Parks and Wildlife Ser­vice Region­al Duty Offi­cer for recording.

All infor­ma­tion col­lect­ed about strand­ed whales and dol­phins in SA is record­ed and com­piled into a database.

The records can help sci­en­tists iden­ti­fy poten­tial trends in dis­ease, ves­sel strike, and species sus­cep­ti­ble to entan­gle­ments in fish­ing gear and marine debris.

Key con­tacts

To report a strand­ed marine mam­mal in SA, con­tact your Nation­al Parks and Wildlife Ser­vice Region­al Duty Officer:

  • Ade­laide and Mount Lofty Ranges: 0427556 676
  • Alinyt­jara Wil­u­rara: 0428253 144
  • Eyre Penin­su­la: (08) 8688 3223
  • Kan­ga­roo Island: 0477334 898
  • North­ern and Yorke: 0417883 678
  • South East: (08) 8735 1177

Some alter­na­tive con­tacts include:

  • Aus­tralian Marine Wildlife Research and Res­cue Organ­i­sa­tion (08) 82625452 or 0411057 551
  • PIR­SA Fish­watch hot­line (calls will be answered 24 hours a day, 7 days a week) 1800065 522
  • SA Muse­um 0434906744 or 0421754 848

For infor­ma­tion on what to do if you find an injured land ani­mal, vis­it theNation­al Parks and Wildlife Ser­vice South Australia’s web­site.

This sto­ry was orig­i­nal­ly post­ed in July 2020.


This con­tent was pro­duced in part­ner­ship with  Good Living