USFWS
Marine Mammals Management
Alaska Region

 

Strandings

LOOK BUT DON’T TOUCH

It is illegal under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (pdf) to touch a marine mammal without the proper authorization. This is to protect both you and the animal. Although you have the right intentions you may actually create more harm to the animal by picking it up. For example, walrus and sea otter are susceptible to domestic pet diseases. If you took the animal to your local veterinarian you could be putting that animal at more risk than if you left it alone and waited for professional help. In addition, it can be dangerous for an untrained person to handle one of these animals; sea otters can deliver a nasty bite if not held correctly, and walrus can inflict serious injury with their tusks.

The following is a guide on how to respond to the stranding of a dead or live marine mammal under the authority of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska (sea otter, walrus, and polar bear). If you have concerns about marine mammals not under the authority of the Fish and Wildlife Service (i.e. whales, seals and sea lions) please contact National Marine Fisheries Service.

What to do if you find a live sea otter or walrus in distress?
If you see a marine mammal you believe is in distress, or out of its natural habitat, and want to help, you should call the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, (1-888-774-7325, 24-hrs) or the Marine Mammals Management Office of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, in Anchorage,
(1-800-362-5148, business hours).

DO NOT APPROACH OR PICK UP THE ANIMAL.

A trained professional from the rehabilitation program of The SeaLife Center or a biologist from Fish and Wildlife Service will ask you the following questions:

  • What is the geographic location of the animal (give detailed directions, i.e., by a certain boat/road/trail/GPS location)?
  • Where is the animal (beach/water)?
  • How long has it been there?
  • Have you been watching it the whole time?
  • How near were you when you were observing it?
  • How big is it? (size can indicate age of animal)
  • Are there any obvious signs of injury? Open wounds, gunshots? Is it in obvious distress?
  • Are there any other animals in the area?
  • Have any other animals been near it?
  • General description of the situation – are there people and dogs harassing it?
  • Do you have photos of the animal and its location?

After contacting a trained professional, and providing answers to the questions above, they will respond as follows:

  • The Fish and Wildlife Service or the SeaLife Center will direct you not to touch the animal without authorization. You will be provided further instructions upon assessment of the situation by the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Alaska SeaLife Center.
  • The Fish and Wildlife Service and the Alaska SeaLife Center may identify a local veterinarian that is willing to visually examine the animal at its stranding location and report back to Fish and Wildlife or the SeaLife Center.
  • From the information you provide, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the SeaLife Center will formulate a plan of action on a case by case basis.

When Is An Animal Picked Up For Rehabilitation?

Sea Otters:
The circumstances where it may generally be appropriate for a sea otter to be removed from the wild by a professional or under authority are as follows;

Dependent pup (less than about 6 months old; half the size of an adult):

    • Alone, not injured, observed continuously for 8 hours and no mother has been seen in the vicinity.
    • Alone, seriously injured or severely emaciated, and no mother has been observed for the last 1-2 hours.

Sub-adult or adult:

    • Not visibly injured and has been observed continuously on land for 24 hours and is acting abnormally. Please be aware that sea otters do haul out on land occasionally to rest.
    • Visibly injured or severely emaciated and observed continuously for several hours.
    • It is a public safety issue; the sea otter is on a crowded beach and there are a lot of people and dogs.

Walrus:
The circumstances where it may generally be appropriate for a walrus to be remove from the wild are as follows;

Dependent calf (less than 2 years old; 120-250 lbs):
    • Alone, not injured, observed continuously for 48 hours and no mother has been seen in the vicinity.
    • Alone, seriously injured or severely emaciated, and no mother has been observed for the last 1-2 hours.

Sub-adult or adult:

    • Sub-adult and adult walrus are generally not suitable candidates for removal because of their large size, aggressive nature, and resistance to immobilizing drugs. The most likely course of action for an injured sub-adult or adult walrus is euthanasia. Euthanasia will only be considered if the animal is visibly injured and acting abnormally (e.g., impaired motor skills). Please be aware that walrus routinely haul out on land for up to several days at a time.

Animals can only be picked up by an authorized individual. For more details on how to become an official part of the Stranding Response Network please contact the National Marine Fisheries Service or the Fish and Wildlife Service. If a biologist from the Fish and Wildlife Service, or a rehabilitator from the SeaLife Center, is not available to respond to the scene then, as a last resort, the Fish and Wildlife Service can verbally authorize someone to pick the animal up. However, this would be a one time authorization on a case-by-case basis.

What to do if you find a dead sea otter
The carcass of a freshly dead sea otter can provide important information to help biologists understand their natural history and physiology. The Fish and Wildlife Service is especially interested in obtaining sea otters that have recently died because of the current decline of the population in southwest Alaska.

If you find sea otter carcass, please contact the Marine Mammals Management office of the Fish and Wildlife Service at 1-800-362-5148 or the Alaska SeaLife Center at 1-888-774-7325.

The carcass is less than 24 hours old if:

  • There are no maggots or fly eggs on or under the body
  • There is no foul odor or dark brown/ black fluid emanating from body
  • The eyes are present and not wrinkled or shrunken
  • The animal was observed alive within the last 12 hours, i.e., not observed dead for more than 12 hours.
  • The body is intact and not scavenged
  • The fur does not pull free in clumps when grasped

If you find a dead sea otter that is less than 24 hours old, please give us a call and we will arrange for shipment back to our laboratory. Do not disturb the carcass until you have contacted the Fish and Wildlife Service or the Alaska SeaLife Center. However, if the tides, predators or people may disturb the carcass, please secure it. Be prepared to give the exact location and take photographs if possible. Your help in collecting this information is invaluable.

AKStrandNet Iocn for iPhone app.An iPhone app for the Alaska Marine Mammal Stranding Network is available

This app will allow you to take and submit photos of dead and live stranded marine mammals in Alaska. Together with your photo, the location of the marine mammal is pinpointed with a GPS code generated by your phone. Your submissions are reviewed by wildlife experts and will mobilize an effort to recover the sick or orphaned animal for rehabilitation and the dead animal for testing. You can also directly contact the stranding hotline through this app, thereby facilitating immediate rescue and recovery efforts by trained responders.

Alaska Strand Net App view
Alaska Strand Net App view 2

 

Last updated: July 2014