Sea Shorts: Learning how to save a stranded dolphin

When a whale or dolphin becomes stranded on a beach, time is of the essence. With all their blubber, these animals can quickly overheat. They can become dehydrated. They can suffer terrible sunburn. And many times, even when the tide eventually becomes high, they need help to get into the water. Marine mammal first responders can make the difference between life and death.

Most first responders are volunteers who trained in the art of helping whales, dolphins, and other marine mammals survive when they are in trouble. Thankfully, training doesn't involve live animals! One of the more popular approaches is to use a life-sized inflatable animal - just like bubbles in the photo below! 

Bubbles the dolphin helping us with our stranded whale and dolphin rescue training.

Bubbles the dolphin helping us with our stranded whale and dolphin rescue training.

With bubbles and her other inflatable friends, we can learn simple but vital techniques to help keep the animals as relaxed as possible, as comfortable as possible, and of course alive. These techniques include keeping the animals shaded, keeping curious people away from the animals and keeping them cool and wet - which is why I'm throwing water over poor bubbles back! We also learn how to do this without getting water in their blowhole - basically the spot on the top of their head where they breath from!

Now bubbles and friends might be inflatable but they aren't filled with air, but water. Once the tide is high enough, getting the animals back into the water is vital. Often this means carrying the animal back into the sea - even on something as simple as a piece of tarpaulin. And for training, volunteers need to understand just how heavy the animals are. Which is very. And sometimes you have to carry them for quite a way. 

Even with our best efforts, sadly sometimes many animals die in strandings. Nevertheless, without the hard work of trained and dedicated volunteers, many more would never make it back into the water. And when you see them swim off, your heart will sing!

Want to train in saving stranded dolphins and whales?

There are lots of organisations around the world who can give you good training in taking care of stranded wildlife. Below are just a few examples*. Be sure to check the regulations in your area - only some organisations may be legally allowed to assist in strandings. 


British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR)

Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme (SMASS)


International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW)

Dolphin Research Center (Florida)

Marine Mammal Stranding Center (New Jersey)

Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network (Texas)


Whale Release and Strandings, Newfoundland and Labrador

Marine Animal Response Society (Maritime Provinces)

New Zealand

Project Jonah


 Organisation for the Rescue and Research of Cetaceans in Australia (ORRCA)

South Africa

South African Whale Disentanglement Network (SAWDN)


*Missing any organisations? Comment below or use my get in touch form!