What to do if you find a stranded marine mammal in Queensland
Issued: 6 Sep 3 min read

Discover how to safely assist stranded marine mammals. Learn the essential steps to follow. Your responsible actions can make a significant difference.

Encountering a stranded marine mammal can be distressing.

In the coastal regions of Queensland where marine life thrives, it's essential to know how to respond in these situations.

So, what should you do?

Report it immediately (before you do anything else).

If you see a stranded marine mammal, like a whale, dolphin, or dugong, it’s natural to want to rush in and help. But for the safety of yourself and the animal, keep your distance.

Take an accurate note of your location and make a report to the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service.

Our Wildlife Hotline is 1300 130 372.

The person taking your call will ask for the following information:

  • location (GPS coordinates if possible)
  • a description of what is wrong with the animal (e.g. stranded on a beach, injuries, entangled in a net, injured)
  • a description of the animal (type of animal—dugong, turtle, whale, dolphin; condition; size and any identifying tags)
  • photos (if available)
  • your contact details.

The QPWS will advise you of the next steps and may dispatch trained departmental staff to assess the situation further and provide appropriate care.

If you cannot reach a wildlife officer via the hotline, leave a message providing the details listed above and a response will be initiated based on the information provided. You may receive a call for further details.

Take care of your own health and safety while waiting for experts to arrive. Do not approach, touch or interfere with a stranded animal as this may cause additional stress or injury. Maintain a distance from the stranded animal and wait for the attendance of departmental staff.

Keep quiet, calm and ensure that dogs, small children and other bystanders are kept away if you’ve found a beached marine mammal.

Why do animals get stranded?

You might be wondering, ‘Why do whales beach themselves?’

The reasons are still not fully understood.

Live whale or dolphin strandings are usually caused by sickness or injury. Other reasons include old age, bad weather, navigation errors, or if a dependent calf has been separated from its mother.

While it's heartening to witness stories of successful animal rescues, these cases are often the exception rather than the norm. The reality is the success rate of such rescue attempts is generally quite low.

In the case of severely ill or injured animals, returning them to the water may be inappropriate. A beached whale or dolphin that is too sick to survive will continue to beach themselves.

This is why it is important to wait for a QPWS ranger or experienced marine mammal vet to determine the best course of action.

Seals and sea lions commonly rest on beaches or rocks. This is not considered stranding. You and your pets should maintain a safe distance of 40m from these animals.

Do these animals carry disease?

Just like you can catch a cold or flu from another person, there are some illnesses that can pass from animals to humans.

These diseases are called zoonoses, and marine mammals (especially ones that are sick) can carry them.

Zoonotic diseases can spread by air or by contact either directly or with bodily fluids.

To minimise your exposure, don’t touch the animal, stand upwind from its blowhole and don’t inhale any vapour that comes from it.

Under the advice of marine mammal veterinarians, should QPWS attempt to return the beached animal to the water, follow all directions from departmental staff. QPWS and their response partners are trained in the management of stranding situations and will provide direction in the best interests of your personal safety and the welfare on the stranded animal.

A colourful Central Coast (NSW) sunrise reflects off the sea, which is scattered with moored boats.

Boaties can also do their part to help keep marine mammals safe.

What should recreational fishers do?

Recreational fishers and boaties can do their part to help marine mammals by following these steps:

  • Go slow for those below: Avoid shallow seagrass areas, but if you can't, reduce your speed to below 10 knots and exercise caution.
  • Look out for turtles and dugongs: These animals may venture into unfamiliar areas while searching for seagrass. Be aware and give them space.
  • Take care when fishing: Dispose of fishing lines properly and use non-stainless-steel hooks.
  • Get the marine park user guides: Familiarise yourself with speed restrictions and regulations in different areas.
  • Don't feed dolphins: It teaches them to associate boats with free food. This puts them in danger of being struck by vessels or becoming entangled in fishing gear if they begin to approach boats for food.
  • Keep distance from whales and dolphins: If your boat is within the animal’s ‘no approach’ zone, you are required to stop the boat, turn the engine off and disengage gears, or withdraw to an area outside the ‘no approach’ zone at a speed no more than six knots that does not create a wake. Go here to learn more about the ‘no approach’ zone (PDF, 488 KB).

By implementing these practices, recreational fishers and boaties can actively contribute to the conservation of marine ecosystems and the well-being of the species that call them home. For more info about what boaties can do to help, go here.

What about commercial fishers?

The best way commercial fishers can help is by adopting best practices when netting. This includes:

  • Shorter net soak times.
  • Higher net inspection regimes.
  • Avoid netting near known turtle aggregation areas.
  • Report any marine animal interactions: keep in mind you are legally obligated to report any turtle or dugong deaths resulting from your fishing activities as soon as practically possible.

For more information on marine wildlife strandings and what commercial fishers can do, visit the Queensland Government website.

Remember to assess the situation from a distance and immediately contact the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service on 1300 132 372.