Of the world’s seven marine turtle species, five have
been recorded in UK waters. They are the leatherback,
loggerhead, Kemp’s ridley, green and hawksbill turtles.
The leatherback, the largest marine turtle, is the species
most frequently recorded in UK waters. Leatherbacks
have a flexible, leathery shell and are unique among
reptiles in that they are able to metabolically raise their
body temperature above that of their immediate environment,
allowing them to survive in colder waters.
Each summer leatherbacks migrate from tropical
nesting beaches to UK waters where they feed on
jellyfish. The other four species have hard shells and
are less frequently encountered in UK waters, where
they usually occur as stray juveniles carried by currents
from warmer seas.
Leatherbacks found stranded on beaches are usually
very weak, but might still be saved.
If apparently uninjured:
Carefully drag the turtle back to the sea and release It
(enlist the help of several people and pull the shell
rather than the flippers).
Do not drag the animal over rocks, as this will cause
If stranded on rocks, it may be better to wait for the
incoming tide to provide some buoyancy before dragging
the turtle back to sea. Other species (hard-shelled)
loggerhead, Kemp’s ridley, green and hawksbill turtles
encountered on UK shores are usually cold stunned
juveniles and should not be placed back in the sea.
Wrap the turtle in a towel soaked in seawater, do not
cover the nostrils.
Place the animal in a sheltered and secure place on
its belly. If inactive, raise the back end of the shell so
the turtle is resting at approximately 30° to drain the
Report the turtle as soon as possible.
Zoological Society of London
0207 449 6672
UK Strandings What to do!
Unfortunately, marine mammals regularly strand
around our coast. Information received on stranded
animals can provide an accurate picture of what
species occur and show local and seasonal distribution.
Dead marine mammal strandings that undergo
post-mortem examination provide us with valuable
information on cause of death, disease, contaminants,
reproductive patterns, diet and also useful pointers to
the general health of the populations living in the seas
around our coasts. This provides useful baseline data
to detect outbreaks of disease or unusual increases in
Click on the image to enlarge
If a cetacean (Whale, Dolphin or Porpoise) is found
alive, please telephone the relevant number as soon as
possible. If the weather is hot keep the animal cool
and wet, avoid pouring water near the blowhole.
Keep well clear of the tail and do not pull the animal
by its tail or fins.
When reporting a dead stranding please give a clear
description of location, species if known, overall
length and condition of the animal, for example: fresh;
slightly decomposed; moderately decomposed;
If you find a live seal
Watch it from a distance. Do not approach the animal. Seals regularly haul out on our coasts - it is part of their normal behaviour. Therefore, finding a seal on the beach does not mean there is necessarily a problem. A healthy seal should be left well alone.
However, if there is a problem, there are a number of things you may see:
- Abandoned: If you see a seal with a white, long-haired coat in the autumn/winter, or you see a small seal (less than 3 feet in length) alone between June and August, then it is probably still suckling from its mother. Check the sea regularly for any sign of an adult seal.
- Thin: Signs of malnutrition include visible ribs, hips and neck and perhaps a rather baggy, wrinkled skin.
- Sick: Signs of ill health include : coughing, sneezing or noisy, rapid breathing and possibly thick mucus coming from the nose, wounds or swellings, particularly on the flippers, and possibly favouring one flipper when moving (although remember that healthy seals will often lie and ‘hunch along’ on their sides) cloudy eyes, or thick mucus around them, or possibly one eye kept closed most of the time a seal showing little response to any disturbance going on around it (although remember they could be soundly asleep).
If you see a seal that may be abandoned, thin or ill, then call for advice and assistance:
BDMLR hotline: 01825 765546
RSPCA hotline: 0300 1234 999
You will receive further advice over the phone. If there is a problem with the animal, there are some important things you can do to help:
- Provide information: Give the hotline an accurate description of the seal and its exact location. If at all possible, stay on the beach to guide the rescue team to the animal. This can save valuable and perhaps critical time. If you have a mobile, give the number to the hotline.
- Control disturbance: Stop other people and their animals from approaching the seal, because - if it is a seal pup that is still suckling, then approaching the pup could threaten the mother-pup bond and the pup may be abandoned seals will react if approached too closely and are capable of inflicting a nasty bite - even the smallest pup can cause serious injury and this is even more of a risk with adults.
- Prevent small seals from entering the sea: Stand between a pup and the sea and, if necessary, use a board or similar object to restrain it. Under no circumstances, attempt this with adult seals, as you could leave yourself open to injury. You should avoid handling a seal pup at all costs, for the same reason. Under no circumstances allow anybody to push the seal back in the sea. A pup still suckling is a poor swimmer and an older animal may be hauled out for good reason.
Dead animals should be reported to:
Zoological Society of London tel:
0207 449 6672
Every year, between 350 and 800 whales, dolphins and porpoises (collectively known as cetaceans) wash up on British shores. Most are dead, but some are still alive. The Natural History Museum is responsible for monitoring these strandings. Since The UK Whale & Dolphin Stranding Scheme started in 1913, more than 11,000 animals have been recorded.
Marine strandings occur for a number of reasons, including sickness, disorientation, natural mortality, extreme weather conditions or injury. Recently bycatch - the accidental capture of animals in fishing nets - has also been identified as one of the main causes of death.
Only a small percentage of the total number of dead dolphins and whales are washed up on our shores so the recent dramatic increase in strandings could represents a much larger number of deaths at sea
How to report a stranding
Anyone finding a stranded dolphin, whale or porpoise should report it immediately (details below), taking great care when approaching stranded animals because of possible disease transmission.
All stranding information is collated and entered into the Natural History Museum's National Strandings database, which is then used to help increase our understanding and aid survival of UK marine mammals.
BDMLR hotline: 01825 765546
RSPCA hotline (England & Wales): 0300 1234 999
SSPCA hotline (Scotland): 03000 999 999
Here is a copy of the advice provided by the BDMLR in the event of a stranding
You will receive further advice over the phone, but important things you can do to help are:
- Provide essential first aid.
- Support the animal in an upright position and dig trenches under the pectoral fins.
- Cover the animal with wet sheets or towels (even seaweed) and keep it moist by spraying or dousing with water, sea water if possible.
- Do NOT cover, or let any water pass down the blowhole (nostril), sited on top of the animal's head. This will cause the animal great distress and could even kill it.
- Every movement around a stranded animal should be quiet, calm and gentle. Excessive noise and disturbance will only stress it further. Keep people with dogs away.
- Estimate the length of the animal and look for any distinguishing feature that may give clues as to the species you are dealing with.
- Look for any signs of injury and count the number of breaths (opening of the blowhole) that occur over a minute - this can give important clues as to how stressed the animal is.
- Take great care when handling a dolphin, porpoise or whale; keep away from the tail, as it can inflict serious injuries - this is particularly the case with whales and it is advisable to leave handling larger whales until experienced help has arrived. Avoid the animal’s breath, as it may carry some potentially nasty bacteria.
- Provide information: Give the hotline an exact location for the animal - this can save valuable and perhaps critical time. If you have a mobile, give the number to the hotlin
- Give an accurate description of the animal, including its breathing rate, and whether it is in the surf, on rocks or sand, in the shade or in the full glare of the su
- Information on weather conditions and sea state also can be helpful
- The hotline should be informed of any attempts already made to push the animal back into the sea
- Maintain control
- Keep all contact, noise and disturbance to a minimum
- Under no circumstances, release the animal into the sea before the rescue team has arrived. It is fine to support a smaller dolphin or porpoise in the water, as long as the blowhole is kept above the water at all times, and as long as it is carried to the water carefully, e.g. in a tarpaulin (do NOT drag it or lift it by its fins or tail). These are delicate and can be broken, resulting in the animal being put down.
- However, actually releasing the animal before it has received an assessment and first aid from experienced personnel can do more harm than good.
Dead stranded animals should be reported to:
- in England, the Natural History Museum on 020 7942 5155
- in Scotland, the Scottish Agricultural College on 01463 243 030
- in Wales, Marine Environmental Monitoring on 01348 875 000