For animal lovers, it can be a tough decision not to run up to a distressed animal and try to help. Some animals might not even be in trouble, and it’s even harder to tell when it comes to marine animals.

Causing undue stress to the animal can make them even more dangerous, and some of them might even carry diseases. Unless you are trained in animal handling or care, it can be illegal to even try to rescue one no matter how much trouble it is in. Here is a guide for steps to follow in case you find a stranded marine animal and are unsure of what to do.

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1. Watch the Animal from a Distance

Observe the animal from a distance of not less than 100 yards. It can be illegal to try handling stranded animals yourself, so do not attempt to touch, carry, move, or feed one. Note the time and location to be communicated to a responder.

Seal mothers often leave their pups on shore while they go out to hunt, but beached whales or dolphins though should be reported immediately.

According to the Marine Environmental Research Institute, “Kayakers, boaters and picnickers should be careful to stay away from pupping ledges. Approaching boats can “flush” seals from haulout ledges into the water, often separating mothers from their newborn pups.  In many cases, these pups become stranded on local beaches and require emergency intervention to survive.”

2. Look for Any Injuries or Markings

Observe the animal’s physical appearance – such as size and markings and condition – is it weak, injured, thin, or wounded? Does it have any markings or tags? This can help responders determine the type of species and make them aware of any resources that they may have to bring along with them.

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3. Call an Animal Rescue Center

Call a hotline number to report the stranded animal, and report all the observances in Step 2. You will have to give the person on the line very specific details so that they can decide whether or not the animal is really stranded or not.

One Green Planet has a great database of hotline numbers in multiple states to call in case you find any stranded marine mammals or sea turtles. Check it out right here!

4. Take Pictures

Take some pictures of the animals at the same distance, such as of the head, full body length, and of any injuries. If you can send them to the rescuer, this will greatly help them understand the situation.

5. Keep an Eye on the Animal

Stand by until responders arrive. Keep other people and animals away from the stranded animal so that no undue stress is caused to it, especially from the tail region as it may start to thrash around in defense.

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Image source: Mike Baird / Flickr

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