Scientific Research gives hope for the future

Every stranded animal, whether alive or dead, offers a unique opportunity to learn more about these remarkable and often elusive creatures.  Since studying these animals in the wild is very difficult, most of what is known about marine mammals historically comes from the study of stranded animals.  The IFAW team strives to maximize what we learn from every stranding event, while ensuring the highest quality of care.  We focus on applied science – research and data collection that can yield real world results.

All elements of our work – rescue, public education and scientific research – are undertaken with two goals in mind:

  • To improve the survival rate of stranded marine mammals by applying what we learn from each event to improve response protocols;
  • To provide policy makers and wildlife managers with quality scientific data upon which to base conservation efforts.

Thanks to the consistent efforts of staff and volunteers, IFAW has amassed a wealth of valuable, high quality data on marine mammal strandings on Cape Cod and southeastern Massachusetts.  We update and revise our assessment, handling, medical treatment, transportation, and release protocols each year based on the new information gathered, then share these with other stranding networks around the world.  In addition, our data represent a leading body of work used by universities, governments and others around the world dedicated to improving the conservation of marine mammal species and their habitats.  Beyond the standard data collected during the course of stranding response, our directed research currently includes:

  • Evaluating the hearing of stranded marine mammals
  • Post-release monitoring (satellite tagging) to determine the success of the rescue and release of stranded cetaceans
  • Mass stranding prevention
  • Seal disentanglement
  • Health status through necropsy (post-mortem examinations) and sample analyses
  • Ultrasound diagnostics in the field
  • Saving Animals Before They Strand

Most notably, IFAW has developed the first systematic, successful mass stranding prevention program in the world designed to avert strandings before they happen.

As soon as we receive word that whales or dolphins are swimming in dangerous locations, the team hits the water in boats equipped with special high frequency acoustic devices called “pingers.” Expertly navigating the boat in a half-moon pattern behind the group of animals, we send out sound wave “pings,” encouraging the herd into deeper water and out of danger. In addition to the years of experience that IFAW has operating boats near whales, our engines have propeller guards to further ensure the safety of the animals during the herding process. 

This growing body of “stranding science” provides a highly respected and invaluable resource in national and global efforts to develop effective conservation measures for marine mammals and to prevent future strandings.