For hundreds of years, people have wondered why whales beach themselves. Marine scientists, who refer to the events as strandings, can explain some situations as a sick or disoriented animal. But the truth is that whales cannot live for very long out of the water. Follow these steps to save a beached whale.
Contact the authorities with your location and as much detail about the whale as you can offer. The best people to call are the local marine mammal stranding network. Authorized by the National Marine Fisheries Service, marine mammal stranding networks cover all coastal areas in the United States. If you cannot reach a stranding network, try wildlife personnel or the police.
Collect as many buckets as possible. Outside of the water, a whale cannot maintain its body temperature and its skin dries out, leading to death. Staying clear of the whale's blowhole (the opening at the back of the head through which it breathes) pour buckets of water on the beached whale to help its skin stay cool and wet.
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Follow the instructions of the stranding or wildlife personnel, who have the necessary training for these situations. The remaining steps may be similar to their instructions to help save a whale.
Cover the whale with water-soaked burlap bags to keep it cool and protect it from sunburn. Keep the blowhole and fins free of any restrictions.
Understand that the purpose of aiding a beached whale is to get it back into the ocean. It may be possible for many people to push a small whale back in the ocean. Realize that a confused whale may resist movement.
Dig a trench next to the whale if you have the equipment. The trench can fill with water, which helps keep whale wet.
Wait for the tide. When the tide comes in, a whale should be able to slip back into the ocean if it's not too weak.
A great field guide resource is "Marine Mammals Ashore: A Field Guide for Strandings" by J.R. Geraci & V.J. Lounsbury, available through Amazon.
Never pour water in the blowhole of whale. Doing so causes it to drown. Understand that whales are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which forbids actual contact with marine mammals. That's why it helps to call in the authorities to save a beached whale.