Marine Wildlife Strandings

Marine wildlife off New England occasionally strand along ocean beaches or in tidal marshes. If the animal strands alive, it could be sick, injured or entrapped. Or the animal could be disorientated, unable to determine the direction back into deep water. If the animal is dead, it may have died while still offshore and then water currents carried the body onto the beach area.

For more recent stranding information including necropsies conducted by NECWA staff and interns, check our NECWA News blog here.

Please be aware that in the United States, many marine animals including whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals and sea turtles are protected by the Marine Mammal Act of 1972 and/or the Endangered Species Act of 1973. This means that it is illegal to touch, harass or harm these animals in any way. Even the best of intentions can lead to the harassment of an animal that appears to be in need of assistance. Therefore, the best way to help stranded marine wildlife is to seek immediate assistance from government and non-government organizations that are part of the Northeast Region Stranding Network.

Find here the organization closest to where you live.

Often, the first person to come upon a stranded animal is someone who is walking on the beach for enjoyment or exercise. Actions taken by this person provide the first link in a chain of important responses that involve both government and non-government organizations. For live animals that beach themselves, a quick response time is key to a successful outcome, which would mean immediate release back into the wild or rehabilitation with plans for future release. For dead animals, examining a carcass in what is termed an animal necropsy provides important insights into the biology and ecology of these magnificent creatures.

All types of coastal marine wildlife strand along our shorelines, including large and small whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals, ocean sunfish, basking sharks and sea turtles. Often, only one animal comes ashore in what is called a solitary stranding event. However, there are times when two or more animals strand together in what is called a mass-stranding event. Strandings of multiple animals present their own unique set of challenges, but all stranding events must be addressed using similar strategies and procedures.

The federal government has established a Northeast Region Stranding Network comprised of government and non-government organizations working together on stranding issues. Each organization is given jurisdiction over specific bay and ocean beaches creating areas that can stretch thousands of miles. And each stranding center within the Northeast Region Stranding Network creates its own response team that is supported by public volunteers who are trained as stranding responders.

Listed below are links for each of the stranding centers that are part of the Northeast Region Stranding Network. Check out their web sites and give them a call to find out the date of their next available training session for volunteers.

Dos and Don'ts for Responders

Call the appropriate stranding center to alert them to the presence of a stranded animal.

  • Provide important information that can be used to relocate the animal.
  • Provide observational information on the overall health and condition of the animal - i.e., changes in breathing, levels of alertness, presence of bleeding, etc.

Monitor activities on the beach to keep curious and often well meaning people away from the animal.

  • Keep pets and wild animals away from the animal.
  • Help any responders sent down by the Center to get on scene as quickly as possible.

Make sure that you and others...

If the animal is alive:

  • Keep a distance from the animal to reduce any additional stress.
  • Do not push the animal back into the water. Even though this might seem like the correct thing to do at the time, it can be dangerous for you and the animal.

If the animal is dead:

  • Do not move or disturb the carcass in any way.
  • Do not collect any parts or pieces of the carcass.
  • Do not mutilate any part of the carcass.

If the animal is entangled in fishing gear:

  • contact the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies Disentanglement Hotline at 1-800-900-3622 or check the Center's website here.

For more detailed information on participating stranding networks and programs,visit the NOAA Fisheries, Office of Protected Resources website here.

Contact Numbers and Network Centers in Maine

Maine Marine Animal Reporting Hotline

Allied Whale, College of the Atlantic
105 Eden Street, Bar Harbor, ME, 04609
website: click here

University of New England
Marine Animal Rehabilitation Center
11 Hills Beach Road, Biddeford, ME 04005
207-580-0447 or 207-915-0169
website: click here

Maine Department of Marine Resources
P.O. Box 8194 McKown Point Road, West Boothbay Harbor, ME 04575
website: click here

Contact Numbers and Network Centers in New Hampshire

New England Aquarium Marine Animal Rescue Program
Central Wharf Boston, MA 02110
website: click here

Contact Numbers and Network Centers in Massachusetts

New England Aquarium Marine Animal Rescue Program
Central Wharf Boston, MA 02110
website: click here

IFAW Stranding Network
PO Box 193, Yarmouth Port, MA 02675
508-754-9548 (24 hr stranding hotline) or 508-743-9805 (regular phone)
website: click here

Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, Massachusetts Audubon
P.O. Box 236, South Wellfleet, MA 02663
website: click here

The National Marine Life Center, Inc.
P.O. Box 269
120 Main Street, Buzzards Bay, MA 02532
website: click here

Contact Numbers and Network Centers in Connecticut & Rhode Island

Mystic Aquarium Animal Rescue Program
55 Coogan Blvd. Mystic, CT 06355
860-572-5955 ext. 107
website: click here

Government Contacts

Protected Resources Division NMFS, Northeast Region
One Blackburn Drive, Gloucester, MA 01930-2298

Protected Species Branch NMFS, Northeast Fisheries Science Center
166 Water Street, Woods Hole, MA 02543-1026

National Park Service, Cape Cod National Seashore
Wellfleet, MA 02667