Whales, dolphins and porpoise (Cetacea) are air-breathing mammals and unlike seals they are fully aquatic. Any cetacean observed on land is most certainly in distress and in need of assistance.
If you observe a cetacean on land:
Immediately phone your local marine mammal rescue team for advice and assistance. (British Divers Marine Life Rescue in the UK)
Remember, safety first! Any physical efforts must be thoroughly considered and all risks assessed. You are responsible for your own welfare whilst assisting a wild animal.
Take note of the species (if known), size, colour, location and any signs of injury.
If possible, take photographs and send them to the rescue team. Remember to use something to give an impression of scale. Photographs of any wounds, parasites and profile of the dorsal (back) fin and position of tide are useful.
Do not attempt to put the animal back into the water without advice from a marine mammal rescue specialist or a vet. You could cause more harm than good.
If the animal is on its side and it is physically possible, gently roll it until the blowhole is centred at the top and dig out trenches in the sand for the pectoral (side) fins.
Keep the skin wet to avoid drying out and maintain low body temperature. Gently pour water on the animal, ensuring no water enters the blowhole. Damp, lightweight material such as bed sheets can help to keep the whole body cooler.
If it is sunny, try to create a shade if possible with a windbreaker or tarpaulin for example.
Be as quiet as possible and encourage other members of the public and dogs to keep a safe distance to keep distress levels low.
Wait patiently for assistance to arrive but always be aware of the incoming tide! Your safety comes first!
Health risk: Some cetaceans may carry zoonotic infections therefore it is very strongly recommended that anyone handling a cetacean should wear latex gloves, a face mask and must avoid the vicinity and exhalations of the blowhole. Stay upwind of the animal! Pregnant women should avoid contact with beached cetaceans altogether.
Make sure you have a number for your local marine mammal rescue team stored in your phone, if in doubt call the Coastguard or local authorities.
BDMLR hotline: 01825 765546 (office hours) or 07787 433412 (out of hours)
RSPCA hotline (England & Wales): 0300 1234 999
SSPCA hotline (Scotland): 03000 999 999
By Amy Ferguson
Image Source: BDMLR