See­ing a live marine mam­mal strand­ed on the shore can be a con­fronting expe­ri­ence. Before assist­ing the ani­mal there are a few impor­tant facts you need to know.

When you see a live strand­ed marine mam­mal (whale, dol­phin, seal or sea lion), your first instinct might be to rush to the ani­mal and imme­di­ate­ly put it back into the water.

Before doing any­thing, you must first check for dan­ger’ to ensure that your health and life are not at risk.

There are a num­ber of envi­ron­men­tal fac­tors to con­sid­er, includ­ing weath­er, waves, tem­per­a­ture, cur­rents and shark pres­ence. It is also impor­tant to have per­son­al pro­tec­tive wear to ensure that your safe­ty is the num­ber one pri­or­i­ty before respond­ing to help a marine mammal.


It is com­mon for healthy seals and sea lions to haul out on the beach and rocks. This is not a strand­ing, please keep your dis­tance from the animal/​s and keep dogs away.

Whales and dol­phins strand for a num­ber of rea­sons includ­ing sick­ness, injury, dis­ori­en­ta­tion, or if a depen­dent calf has been sep­a­rat­ed from its moth­er. It is impor­tant to keep this infor­ma­tion 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, should 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.

Get­ting Help

Before assist­ing with a live strand­ed marine mam­mal, it is best to first call your local Nation­al Parks and Wildlife Ser­vice office. They can pro­vide you with advice over the phone and/​or send expe­ri­enced per­son­nel with equip­ment to assist with the incident.

Zoonot­ic Disease

Zoonoses are infec­tious dis­eases caused by pathogens (e.g. bac­te­ria, virus­es and par­a­sites) that can spread between ani­mals, includ­ing humans.

Marine mam­mals are known to car­ry a range of zoonot­ic, 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 mam­mal (whale dol­phin, fur seal or sea lion) you must first ensure that you are wear­ing pro­tec­tive cloth­ing to pro­tect your­self from poten­tial zoonot­ic diseases.

This includes:

  • rub­ber gloves
  • face masks
  • eye pro­tec­tion
  • long pants/​sleeves
  • cov­er any cuts or abra­sions you may have. 

It is impor­tant that you don’t posi­tion your­self near the blow hole or down wind of the blow of a whale or dol­phin. Please be aware that seals and sea lions may bite, inflict­ing seri­ous wounds which have a high poten­tial for infection.

Avoid unnec­es­sary touch­ing of the ani­mal. This pre­vents expo­sure to bac­te­ria and virus­es and will also reduce stress to the animal.


Much of what sci­ence knows about whales and dol­phins has been gained through study­ing strand­ed ani­mals. It is impor­tant to col­lect as much infor­ma­tion as pos­si­ble from a strand­ing, includ­ing tak­ing photos.

All infor­ma­tion about live and dead strand­ed whales and dol­phins in South Aus­tralia is record­ed and com­piled into a data­base. These valu­able records can help sci­en­tists to iden­ti­fy poten­tial trends in dis­ease, ves­sel strike, and species sus­cep­ti­ble to entan­gle­ments in fish­ing gear and marine debris.

Send reports of entan­gle­ments and live or dead strand­ings of whales and dol­phins through to your local Nation­al Parks and Wildlife Ser­vice office, the South Aus­tralian Muse­um or PIR­SA Fish­eries. Some basic infor­ma­tion to report includes:

  • Observ­er name and con­tact number
  • Date
  • Time
  • Loca­tion, includ­ing near­est road
  • GPS (if possible)
  • Size of animal
  • Take pho­tos of the whole ani­mal from dif­fer­ent views. Pho­to­graph the head, dor­sal fin, flip­pers and tail. Try to also include some­thing for scale.

Live whale or dolphin

If you encounter a strand­ed whale or dol­phin, and only if you have the appro­pri­ate pro­tec­tive wear on hand, there are a few things that you can do to make the ani­mal more comfortable.

  • Dig out the sand under the 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 body of the ani­mal- be sure not to cov­er the blowhole
  • Keep the sheets/​towels wet
  • Avoid walk­ing any­where near the tail flukes- nev­er step over the animal
  • Keep pets away- they could get harmed or even sick

Nev­er drag a whale or dol­phin back to sea, or pick them up by their pec­toral fins or tail flukes as this can cause fur­ther injuries.

Dead whale or dolphin

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


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

Alter­na­tive con­tacts include:

PIR­SA Fish­watch hot­line
1800 065 522 (24÷7)

SA Muse­um
(08) 8207 7500

Image: Live strand­ed pygmy blue whale