Strandings and rescue

Attending pilot whale stranding in Scotland
Attending pilot whale stranding in Scotland
Every year, thousands of whales, dolphins and porpoises get into trouble on coastlines around the world. Unless those animals that strand alive, or become trapped in shallow water, are responded to rapidly, they will become distressed and may die. WDC is here to give them that help and we continue to support rescue efforts across the globe, and to investigate and campaign against the human causes behind some of these incidents.

The large numbers of whales, dolphins and porpoises found dead or stranded around the world's coastlines each year are often helpless, and usually die within a few hours or days if not attended to in the right way.

Those still alive will need an urgent and expert rescue response, but we also need to help prevent the many stranding incidents that result from man made factors, such as noise pollution or entanglement in fishing nets.

Some animals die at sea and then wash up onshore, others come ashore (strand) alive, and some become trapped in shallow waters. Whatever the circumstances, a live whale or dolphin beached on the shore is almost always in danger. Some come ashore on their own, but others can strand in mass groups.

In the case of species that live in groups with strong social or ‘family’ bonds, a lead animal in trouble may put the whole group into danger.  Pilot whales are a good example. If one individual in the group is ill they may come in to help, but end up in trouble themselves.Pilot Whale stranded at Durness, Scotland

Live stranded whales and dolphins may seem to be healthy but could be old or unwell. Others may have suffered injury from boat propellers or entanglement in fishing nets and gear.  Nets and fishing gear are the biggest killer of whales and dolphins across the globe, causing terrible injury and typically death by suffocation (because once trapped underwater the animals clamp their blow holes shut). Please see our section on fisheries for more information about this.

Errors in navigation may also be a cause but, noise from military exercises (using loud explosions or powerful sonar), or from exploration surveys at sea for oil and gas could also cause whales and dolphins to strand on the shoreline. Remember, they live in a world of sound – using it to communicate, find food, and navigate. High levels of noise disrupt this world and threaten these creatures.