Stranded or Entangled Marine Animals: What Do You Do When You Find One?
It’s summertime and that means beachgoers and fishermen are out in force soaking up the sun and working on those ‘fish stories.’ In fact, you’ve probably heard some of the news stories about folks assisting marine animals or sea turtles stranded on the beach or entangled in fishing gear.
From Alaska to North Carolina, we’ve seen good Samaritans get involved with seal pups, sea turtles, and whales. While these recent interactions fortunately had positive outcomes, I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to avoid any contact with an animal that is stranded or entangled. This is for your safety as well as the safety of the animal. The best course of action is to immediately call a trained and authorized responder.
What many people don’t know is that it’s also the law. All marine mammals are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and any endangered species such as turtles and right whales are additionally protected under the Endangered Species Act. Both laws provide specific authorizations for trained people to respond to marine animals in distress. If you are not authorized, then you are in violation of these laws that could result in a hefty penalty. More importantly, you may unknowingly harm these animals further.
Interacting with a stranded or entangled animal might also result in the loss of critical information. This information is frequently used to develop new methods to prevent animals from getting entangled, injured, or killed by fishing gear in the future. Furthermore, when an untrained person attempts to disentangle an animal, there’s a chance they could affect an enforcement officer’s ability to collect potential evidence and information about what caused the entanglement. Please keep your distance and let trained professionals handle the situation.
Thank you for helping us protect marine animals by following the law and our recommended guidelines.
Remember these quick tips if you encounter a stranded or entangled marine animal:
To help enforcement officers and other responders, take note of the following:
- Contact the appropriate NOAA Fisheries Disentanglement Hotline as soon as possible (see hotline numbers below) and provide your exact location
- Remain at a safe distance and record what you see
- Stand by, if it’s safe, until an authorized or trained responder arrives
- Take photos and give them to the responder
- Enter the water with the animal
- Attempt to disentangle the animal without authorization from the proper authorities
- Cut the anchoring line and release the animal with gear still on it
NOAA Fisheries Divisional Disentanglement Hotline Numbers
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