Dolphins, porpoises and even the odd Minke Whale are often spotted in the seas surrounding Cornwall, but very occasionally things can go wrong and they can find themselves stranded on the beach with their life at risk. This can be very distressing to see says Sarah Dolman from Whale and Dolphin Conservation but there are things you can do to help the animal and see it returned to the water.
If you find a live stranded whale, porpoise or dolphin (cetacean) on the shore the first and most important thing to do is contact the experts at British Divers Marine Life Rescue (01825 765546) or the RSPCA (0300 1234999). It may be that it is too late, and that the cetacean is dying of natural causes or is very near death. But that’s not always the case and every year stranded whales and dolphins are successfully returned to the sea.
You will need to provide accurate details as possible to the experts, including where the animal is, its size, condition and species, if possible.
Until help arrives it is vital to minimise stress to the animal, so keep people and dogs away. If you have access to sheets, then wet them and cover the animal for protection from the sun and wind, keeping the blowhole clear. It is equally important to keep yourself safe, so stay away from the blowhole to prevent breathing in what the dolphin or whale exhales, and from the tail, which can be powerful. Don’t touch the animal without wearing gloves and be sure to wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.
When help arrives tell them what you have done and ask what they now need from you.
The marine medics who do the ‘rescue and return’ are well trained, but generally are passionate volunteers, while a veterinary surgeon, hopefully with some experience of triaging marine species, will oversee the rescue, sometimes marine mammal scientists are involved and often local communities assist too.
The information gleaned from each rescue is critical. Everything we learn about how to rescue individuals that are healthy enough to be returned to sea, we learn from each other and from experience. Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) has organised Rescue workshops, with contributions from vets and others with extensive marine mammal rescue expertise, to benefit from our collective knowledge. And WDC’s role in strandings doesn’t end there. We provide on the ground strandings support and contribute to national strandings policies, to ensure that the welfare of the whale, dolphin, porpoise or seal is paramount.
As well as reporting live strandings, it is very important to report dead stranded dolphins, whales and seals as well. In the UK we have a government funded scheme, called the Cetacean Investigation Stranding Programme (CSIP). The CSIP team in England, Wales and Scotland collects reports of dead stranded whales, dolphins and porpoises (and seals in Scotland). Wherever possible, post mortems are undertaken. This information helps us understand a great deal about natural causes of death (such as disease outbreaks), as well as those that are caused by people such as entanglements in fishing gear. A staggering fifty per cent of Minke Whales stranded in Scotland showed signs of entanglements.) It also helps us understand impacts of chemicals such as PCBs; in all likelihood a major but little understood threat.
Strandings also provide us with evidence of new and emerging threats. For example where boat propellors cause ‘corkscrew’ injuries to seals. WDC is leading efforts to get better monitoring and mitigation in place to prevent such deaths.
In the UK, WDC works with the British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) which is an organisation dedicated to the rescue and well being of all marine species in distress around the UK.
BDMLR provides training for volunteers to become accredited marine mammal medics who are qualified and insured to attend rescues of marine wildlife around the UK coast. The course is a full day’s session and the fee is around £90, and that includes your first year’s supporter’s fee and third party insurance while on a rescue.
Find out more about becoming a marine mammal medic at www.bdmlr.org.uk
If you find a dead cetacean please contact the Natural History Museum on 0207 9425155
Watch the BDMLR rescuing and releasing a common dolphin in Penzance Harbour below