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What should be done when a whale is stranded?

Often when a whale is found stranded on a beach, the first reaction of humans is to help return the whale to the sea. But returning a stranded whale back to the sea is not always the most humane course of action given that the whale may be injured or sick. In order to determine whether the whale is healthy and can be successfully returned to the sea it is necessary that a veterinarian or a trained expert assess the whale’s physical condition. If a stranded whale is considered to be healthy enough to return to the sea then its welfare should be of the utmost consideration when determining the best technique to use.

What should be done if a stranded whale is sick or injured?

In cases where a stranded whale is found to be unfit to return to the sea, the most humane course of action is to minimize its pain and suffering wherever possible through euthanasia. The animal’s welfare must be the highest priority in the decision making process.

What should happen to whale calves when the mother is stranded?

Occasionally, stranded whales have calves that strand with them or are left in the shallow water nearby. Unfortunately, young whales are highly dependent upon their mothers for survival as she provides them with nourishment and protects them from predators. If dependent calves are released without their mother they could starve to death or be attacked by sharks. There are instances when the calves of stranded whales have been returned to the sea only to strand days later in poor condition or be found dead.

Before the calf of a stranded whale is returned to the sea it is necessary to assess the likelihood of both the mother and calf’s survival. Only if both the mother and calf are declared fit to be returned to sea, should they both be released. If a mother is unable to be returned to sea, the most humane option is to euthanase the calf as it is unlikely to be able to survive without its mother.

Further reading

  1. RSPCA UK (2002) Stranded Cetaceans: guidelines for veterinary surgeons and RSPCA UK (2002) Stranded whales, dolphins and porpoises: a first aid guide
  2. Geraci Joseph R. And Lounsbury Valerie J. (1993) Marine Mammals Ashore- A Field Guide for Stranding. Texas A&M Sea Grant Publication
  3. Australian Veterinary Association (2010) Marine Mammal Euthanasia Policy
  4. Marine Mammal Stranding First Aid (2013) Southern Cross University Biology and Conservation of Marine Mammals Unit
Updated on May 1, 2019
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