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Scientists Need Your Help On Whale And Dolphin Strandings Watch.

March 09 2005

The number of whales, dolphins and porpoises stranded on the UK coastline has more than doubled over the last ten years. In 1994 360 animals were stranded, while in 2004 the number rose to 782.

These figures were published today by the Natural History Museum in a report called 'Out of the Blue'. The Museum has been monitoring strandings since 1913.
This killer whale was stranded in 2001.© NHM Picture Library.

When an animal is 'stranded' that means it's washed out of the water, onto dry land. Sometimes the animals are still alive when they're washed up, sometimes they are already dead.
Strandings can happen for all sorts of reasons. An animal might be injured, ill, weak, caught in very heavy weather or simply confused. If the animal is alive, experts will try very hard to return it to the water.

Unfortunately it's thought that lots of animals die when they're caught accidentally in fishing nets. This is called 'bycatch'.

So - how can you help?

Well, as you can imagine, keeping track of stranded whales, dolphins and porpoises all the way around our coastline is a very difficult business.The Natural History Museum doesn't have enough scientists to have them all sitting on beaches every day keeping their eyes peeled for floundering whales.Instead, they rely on coastguards, local scientists, organisations like the RSPCA and members of the public to let them know when an animal is found.

Richard Sabin from the Museum explains 'the help of individuals in reporting strandings, both on land and at sea, is vital to our research.'

If you ever find a whale, dolphin or porpoise stranded on a beach the first thing to remember is don't touch!The animal might be ill and humans can catch diseases from an animal, even if it is already dead.

If you do spot a stranding here's what to do:

If the animal is still alive call the RSPCA. In England or Wales phone 0870 555 5999. In Scotland phone 0131 339 0222.

If the animal is dead there are different numbers to call.

England: 0207 942 5155 (Natural History Museum).
Scotland: 01463 243 030 (Scottish Agricultural College).
Wales: 01348 875 000 (Marine Environmental Monitoring).

Find out more...

You can read several reports of recent strandings and see pictures on these web pages from the Natural History Museum. The reports have lots of pictures and explain why each animal was stranded.

Research is a very important part of many museums' work. Check out Walking with Woodlice to find out about another of the Natural History Museum's national research schemes.

Story by Anra Kennedy