Strandings: sad events but an inestimable source of information….

… that can greatly advance our knowledge about these species and their role in the marine environment.

It is indeed always stressful to find marine creatures beached ashore, even more so when those are big animals like dolphins or sea turtles, sometimes still alive and in need of help. Most of the time nobody knows what to do to help the animal.

A “stranding” is defined as any event where a marine mammal or a sea turtle is cast ashore and they get entrapped in the shallow waters, alive or dead. Stranding can be of a single individual, like the small finless porpoise reported stranded in Kuwait (check on our Facebook Page), or multiple individuals, like in the recent case of a pod of false killer whales beached in Oman. Sometime strandings that involve significant numbers of individuals can be challenging to manage from a health perspective.

It can be difficult to pinpoint the causes that cause an animal to strand itself. The reasons behind mass strandings are still a topic of debate amongst scientists: most probably the principal factor at the root of mass strandings, is the strong social bond among individuals in a group. On the other hand, strandings of single individuals are thought to be caused by illness, or accidents such as a collision with a boat or a propeller, or drowning as consequence of by-catch. Underwater sonar activities can also represent a threat for cetaceans as very high frequency sounds can permanently damage the delicate cetacean hearing system that they use for echolocating and orientating underwater.

Although witnessing a stranding or discovering a dead dolphin can be upsetting, if experienced and skilled people are called on site, a sad event can turn into an inestimable source of information otherwise extremely difficult to obtain. In case of a live stranding, knowing how to handle the animal and what to do can actually end in a successful rescue. In case of a dead stranding, no matter how old the carcass is, carrying out a necropsy can provide invaluable information on the possible cause of death, status of the animal, parasites, diet, life history parameters and genetic information.

In many countries, especially where strandings are a frequent event, there are established stranding networks mostly lead by NGO organizations, supported by the local institutions and run on a volunteering basis. Volunteers are trained people able to conduct basic first aid or collect the necessary data, samples and picture. Data and samples are stores in a centralised database, and this maximises the information collected for scientific research.

In the UAE strandings seem not to be a frequent event, however we do have any estimate of the number of stranding that do not get reported and simply pass unnoticed. None of the Emirates have a centralised stranding network and it is our target to work in collaboration with the local authorities and organizations to develop a simple and efficient way to report strandings. The public can also play a vital role in this by getting simple proper training and learning the first aid actions to take in case of a stranding. So if you are interested, please check this space in the coming months and we will keep you updated about any initiative related to this subject. And remember: everyone can always help! If you encounter a cetacean in distress or dead, please contact us immediately (0566717164)!

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