Marine Mammal Stranding

If you see a marine mammal that is sick, injured, entangled, stranded, or deceased, the best course of action is to report your sighting. This allows professional responders and scientists to take appropriate action.

Marine mammals are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which makes it illegal to “take” marine mammals without a permit. “Take” is defined as hunting, capturing, collecting, or killing any marine mammal or part of a marine mammal, but also includes harassing and feeding these marine mammals. This Act also formalized the marine mammal health and stranding response program.

Who To Contact:

  • Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife (all counties) – (253) 589-7235
  • Thurston & Mason Counties – Cascadia Research – (360) 791-9555
  • NOAA Fisheries Stranded Marine Mammal Hotline (all counties) – (253) 208-2427
  • NOAA Large Whale Entanglement Hotline (Pacific Coast) – 1-877-767-9425
  • Other Wildlife Injuries or Strandings (i.e. birds, deer, racoons, etc) – West Sound Wildlife on Bainbridge Island – (206) 855-9057

*For all calls, please note the date, time, location, description, and your name and number.*

There are also several organizations in Central and North Puget Sound who are trained to respond to entanglements, strandings, injuries, and deceased marine mammals. If you are outside of the South Puget Sound, we highly recommend looking at the full listing of organizations on the NOAA Fisheries website or on their helpful location map.

Distress or evaporative cooling?

Occasionally marine mammals will exhibit what looks like peculiar or distressed behavior, when it’s actually quite normal.

Seals and sea lions sometimes swim with one flipper in the air. Although at first glance it may look like they are in distress, or acting oddly, this is a common behavior called evaporative cooling. To regulate their body temperature, they’ll float with one flipper out of the water. This is so their capillaries (which are close to the surface of their skin) can catch sunbeams and warm their body. To cool down, they put their flipper into the water and then raise it back up into the air, which cools them off during the evaporation process (thermoregulation). Check out the video of this behavior below that was sent to us by a Gig Harbor local.