FAQs about dolphins, porpoises and whales

Why not just push stranded animals back into the water?
Pushing stranded dolphins, whales and porpoises off can be a very dangerous endeavor for both the person and the animal involved.  Whales and dolphins have extremely powerful tails that can cause serious injury or death to well-meaning humans.  Dragging whales, dolphins and porpoises back into the water can cause irreversible damage to the animals that may seriously compromise their ability to survive.  In order for the animals to 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, years 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 will usually be too sick or stressed to be good candidates for relocation and another release.

In the past few years, IFAW has been tremendously successful in relocating and releasing mass stranded dolphins.  This tactic may seem counter-intuitive but has produced extremely encouraging results.  IFAW loads the dolphins into our trucks and trailers and transports them across land as fast as possible to a beach that has deep water access.  Both through collaboration with the New England Aquarium and through our own program, some of the animals that we release have been tagged with a satellite transmitter that notifies us of the animals’ locations.  By using this technology, we are able to get a better idea of how the dolphins are faring after relocation and release.  All the feedback from the satellite tags has indicated that these dolphins are swimming and behaving in a normal manner. 

Aren’t there any hospitals for sick dolphins and whales?
No.  At this time, there is no rehabilitation space available for whales or dolphins.  Small harbor porpoises are the only cetacean species for which rehabilitation space may be available at this time.  Unfortunately, facilities and funding are extremely limited for this expensive endeavor.

Can you prevent mass strandings from happening?
IFAW has developed a mass stranding prevention program to avert strandings before they happen.  This is the only successful program in the world to prevent dolphins and whales from stranding.  When IFAW receives early warning that whales or dolphins are swimming close to shore in potentially dangerous locations, we respond as quickly as possible.  Using small boats and special acoustic devices called “pingers” that emit an irritating, high frequency noise, IFAW herds the animals out of danger and into deeper water.  IFAW’s highly trained personnel have years of experience operating boats near small whales/dolphins, and the engine has a propeller guard 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, 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: 508-743-9548.  Give a detailed description of the location, including directions to the site and landmarks on the beach to help us find the animal(s).  Also, please provide both the number of live and dead animals you saw.  The IFAW staff members that answer the hotline may ask you for more information regarding the status of the tide cycle, the conditions at the stranding site and site accessibility for rescue personnel and trucks in order to dispatch the most appropriate response.  IFAW staff will then call trained responders that can get on scene as quickly as possible to provide care until the staff arrives with the vehicles and equipment.  Please do not handle the animals, try to push them back in the water, or move them in any way - they are in need of professional care.