Alaska Marine Mammal Stranding Network

Necropsy of killer whale

NOAA Fisheries biologist, Sadie Wright, examines a stranded killer whale near Petersburg, Alaska.

About the Stranding Network

The Alaska Region Marine Mammal Stranding Network was created to provide a consistent framework in which to collect and compile data about marine mammal strandings throughout the entire state. The network is composed of state and federal wildlife and fisheries agencies, veterinary clinics, Alaska Native organizations, and academic institutions who respond to or provide professional advice on handling strandings.

A stranded animal is one that is dead on the beach or in the water, one that is alive on land and unable to return to the water and/or in need of medical attention, or a live animal in the water that is unable to return to its natural habitat under its own power or without assistance. In most cases, the cause of the stranding is unknown; some identified causes have included pup abandonment, injuries from ship strikes or fishery entanglements, pollution exposure, trauma, disease and starvation. While most stranded animals are found dead, some strand alive. In a limited number of cases it's possible to transport individuals to regional rehabilitation centers for care, where they are treated with the objective of returning them to the wild. In the Alaska Region, the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward handles all marine mammal rehabilitation.

Stranded animals may provide information on species geographical distribution, feeding habits, reproduction, age distribution, diseases, parasites, and contaminant levels. If strandings are reported quickly, the network also may facilitate the rapid identification of mass mortalities or strandings caused by disease or toxicity/pollution problems. By conducting necropsies on dead stranded animals, it is also possible to learn more about the basic physiology and biology of animals not accessible in the wild or by any other means. Necropsies also have provided data on the incidence of human interactions including ship strikes, shootings, entanglements, and marine debris ingestions. These data help NMFS to make better management decisions about these stocks of marine mammals. 

Without authorization from NMFS, the public cannot pick up stranded marine mammals. However, assistance in documenting the incident is helpful and will allow stranding network members to respond. The most important information to collect is the date, location of stranding (including latitude and longitude), number of animals, and species, if known. Photos are also very valuable.

Specimens of the small or rare cetaceans, especially those that are in good condition, may be of interest to museums. Researchers sometimes need specific tissues from other species for various projects. The stranding network office in Juneau will help to establish communication among stranding network members and between museums and researchers and persons or agencies that report strandings.

How to Report a Stranding

Please let us know if you see injured, entangled or dead whales, seals or sea lions in the water or on the beach. The most important information to collect is the date, location of stranding (including latitude and longitude), number of animals, and species. Take pictures from different angles if you are able. Please don't move or touch the animal. Contact Information

NOTE: If the stranded animal is a walrus, sea otter, or polar bear, call the the Marine Mammals Management Office of the US Fish and Wildlife Service in Anchorage (1-800-362-5148 FREE, business hours) or the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward (1-888-774-7325, 24-hrs).

Biologists measuring Steller sea lion carcass

Biologists, Kate Savage and Kim Raum-Suryan, measure an adult male Steller sea lion observed on a Copper River Delta, Alaska, carcass survey.


Alaska Stranding Summaries and Newsletters

Necropsy of humpback whale

Initial stages of a stranding network necropsy of a humpback whale near Ketchikan, Alaska.

Alaska Stranding Network Members

More Information