FAQs about dolphins, porpoises and whales

Why not just push stranded animals back into the water?
Improper handling of stranded dolphins, whales and porpoises by untrained personnel can be very dangerous for people and the animal involved.  Whales and dolphins have extremely powerful tails that can cause serious injury or death to well-meaning humans.  Dragging or pushing whales, dolphins, and porpoises back into the water can cause irreversible damage to the animals which may seriously compromise their ability to survive.  In order for the animals to be handled safety and obtain the best care possible, they should be examined by marine mammal biologists and veterinarians, and handled by professionally trained personnel with specialized equipment.  Additionally, decades of experience have determined that whales and dolphins that strand in Cape Cod Bay and are immediately pushed off will inevitably re-strand in another location.  On re-stranding, they are then usually too compromised to be good candidates for relocation and release.

In the past few years, IFAW has been tremendously successful in relocating and releasing stranded dolphins. .  IFAW loads the dolphins into our specialized enclosed trailers and transports them across land to a beach that has deep water access.  During transport, each animal receives a full health assessment exam and can be treated with any needed fluids or medications. Some of the animals that we release are tagged with a small, temporary satellite transmitter that notifies us of the animals’ location offshore.  By using this technology, we are able to get a better idea of how the dolphins are faring after  release.  Data from the satellite tags has helped guide us on the best ways to assess the health of stranded dolphins and helps improve our future responses.

Aren’t there any hospitals for sick dolphins and whales?
No.  At this time, there is no rehabilitation space available for whales or dolphins in this area. Even in the few places in the world where rehabilitation facilities do exist for cetaceans, it is a very expensive endeavor and funding is extremely limited. Stranded animals on Cape Cod do receive full health assessment exams in IFAW’s specially-designed rescue trailers which are equipped with blood machines, ultrasound and hearing test equipment, and stocked to provide therapeutic fluids and medications. 

Can you prevent mass strandings from happening?
IFAW has developed a mass stranding prevention program to avert strandings before they happen.  When whales or dolphins are reported swimming close to shore in potentially dangerous tidal locations, we use small, maneuverable boats and special acoustic devices called “pingers,” which emit a specific underwater sound, to redirect the animals and herd them out of danger and into deeper water.  IFAW’s highly-trained personnel have years of experience operating boats near small whales/dolphins, and our engines have  propeller guards to further ensure the safety of the animals during the herding process.  IFAW’s boats sweep behind the group of animals in a half-moon pattern, similar to how a sheep dog herds sheep, encouraging them to swim in the proper direction, away from land.

What should I do if I find a beached dolphin or whale?
Call IFAW’s Marine Mammal Rescue 24-hr Stranding Hotline immediately at 508-743-9548, if you spot a stranded marine mammal in southeastern Massachusetts.  When reporting a stranded animal provide the following information:

  • Your name and contact number
  • Location of the animal(s), including directions to the site and landmarks on the beach to help us find the animal(s)
  • Type of animal seen (seal, porpoise, dolphin or whale)
  • The number of animals and if live or dead 

Please keep a safe distance from any live animal, about 150 feet, and keep pets leashed.  Do not handle the animals, try to push them back in the water, or move them in any way.

If you find a stranded marine mammal anywhere else in the United States click here to find your local stranding response agency