When visiting a beach, we have many expectations. People expect a fun beach day, hot sand, and rolling waves. Maybe even an opportunity to see some ocean wildlife. Seeing a whale or dolphin breach the surface is a magical moment! However, seeing one on the beach is unexpected and stressful.
There is a slim chance of encountering a beached creature, but beaching is an occurrence for whales and other cetaceans. According to the WDC thousands of Ocean creatures become stranded each year. We go to the beaches fully unprepared for these events, but awareness can save the lives of stranded marine life.
Why do whales beach themselves?
First, it is important to understand what is happening when there is a beached marine creature. Whale Facts supplies a range of reasons ranging in trauma from illness, attack, or injury, to confusion due to sonar, causing the whale to forget its directions. In 2017 alone there have been several mass strandings where hundreds of whales follow their pod onto the shores. This occurs because the whales tend to follow each other. So, if one or more members of the pod become stranded the others follow. According to Ben Westcott, an incident occurred where 400 whales found their way onto a beach. We may never be able to prevent beachings, but these creatures can be saved.
Remember to keep in mind, these are wild animals. Approach at your own risk. Animals in distress can cause harm. Do not approach or touch the animal unless it is absolutely necessary.
Here is what you should do if you stumbled upon a beached creature according to the WDC:
- Call for Help- Your first action should be to gather help. Contact the life guard or patrol close to the beach. The faster help can get to the animal, the less harm to it. There are also specific numbers to call for specific beaches, but when calling be sure to give precise directions. Help cannot come if they don’t know where you are.
The NOAA provides help numbers to contact in the situation of cetacean stranding HERE:
- Minimize the animal’s stress level- While help is on the way, remember to keep the animal calm. Try not to crowd the animal, and be sure to approach with care. Keep loud or excited pets away. A stressed marine mammal of great size can cause a large amount of damage to themselves and others. If they start thrashing or panicking it would be wise to step away and avoid injury.
- Do not try to move the animal back into the water- Wait for help from professionals, to avoid risking serious injury. The animal may begin thrashing and injure itself or others. Not to mention these animals are very heavy and not everyone can bear the weight.
- Make sure the animal is kept wet- This will protect the animals’ skin until they can get back in the water. Also ensure that the animal is upright, flat on its underside. Keep the blowhole clear, so the animal can continue to breathe.
While the exact reason for cetacean strandings is unclear, it is important to be aware of the issue in order to preserve our marine life. Help from the public is vital in report and reaching the animals as soon as possible. Even if you do not feel safe approaching the animal remember to remain calm and when help arrives, let the professionals do the work. Your part in helping these creatures is still important, and it is vital that people are prepared for cetacean strandings to ensure the wellbeing of the animal and human.
-Heather Weller, Plea for the Sea
“What To Do If You Find A Live Stranded Whale Or Dolphin.” WDC. Web. 2 Aug. 2017.
Wescott, Ben. “Hundreds of whales dead after mass stranding in New Zealand.” CNN. 10 Feb. 2017. Web. 2 Aug 2017.
“Why do Whales Beach Themselves?” Whale Facts. Web. 2 Aug. 2017.
“Report a Stranded/ Beached Marine Animal.” NOAA Fisheries. Web. 2 Aug. 2017. http://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/pr/health/report.htm