Marine Mammal Rescue Agencies

From Beachapedia

By Lynsey Atkinson, August 2020

Ahead is a guide on the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which protects all United States marine mammals, and what to do if you see a distressed marine mammal.

Many are attracted to the coast to witness and experience the diverse wildlife that inhabit the ocean. Getting to observe these animals when they come to the surface or to shore can create lifelong memories and a deepened respect and appreciation for the ocean. However, our presence can also have a negative impact on wildlife, especially if you get too close, make excessive noise or leave trash on the beach. Additionally, years of plastic debris reaching our oceans, discarded fishing nets (“ghost gear”), ship strikes and a changing environment due to climate change can severely disrupt wildlife- leading to entanglements, starvation, injury or worse. When at the coast, sadly you may see a distressed animal, such as a beached whale, an entangled turtle, or an ill seal. While this can be upsetting, you can have an important role to play to potentially save its life. With the right information and numbers to call, some of these troubled marine mammals can be helped.

Humpback Whale.jpg

Marine Mammal Protection Act

The Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) was passed on October 21, 1972 in the hope to protect all marine mammals by prohibiting the “take” (fishing and extraction from sea) and importation of marine mammals and their products into the United States; the MMPA also limits the proximity that people can be to marine mammals to no less than 100 yards. This act’s jurisdiction is shared by US Fish and Wildlife Service, NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service, and the Marine Mammal Commission. While all three of these federal entities share responsibility for implementing the MMPA, they all have unique responsibilities, as well:

  • NOAA Fisheries is responsible for the protection of whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals, and sea lions;
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is responsible for the protection of walrus, manatees, sea otters, and polar bears; and
  • Marine Mammal Commission provides independent, science-based oversight of domestic and international policies and actions of federal agencies addressing human impacts on marine mammals and their ecosystems.

There are several exceptions to the MMPA, and those include:

  • Pre-MMPA specimens taken before December 21, 1972
  • International Agreements entered into by the United States before December 21, 1972 Alaska natives
  • Scientific research, public display, enhancing the survival or recovery of a species, and incidental take in commercial fisheries
  • Waivers granted by the U.S. Government

Seal pups.jpg

While the Marine Mammal Protection Act is meant to protect the marine animals that we are lucky to see on shore by limiting human interaction, there are times in which human intervention is needed. Here is a guide which describes how to differentiate between normal and distressed behaviors of some marine mammals and who to call when intervention is needed.

Don’t forget:

  • Do not touch, feed or approach any marine mammals. Keep at least 100 yards away!
  • If you see a sick, injured, entangled, stranded, or dead animal, report it to your local organization or authority, follow their directions, and remain on site until they tell you otherwise.
  • If you see someone harassing animals on shore, be proactive! If you feel unsafe or cannot tell them to stop, report them to your local organization or authority.
  • Learn how to differentiate between different behaviors.

How to Differentiate Between Normal and Distressed Behaviors

Harbor Seals

Harbor seals and their pups can spend hours basking on the beach! Seal pups can spend up to 48 hours at a time basking while waiting for their mothers to return from feeding trips. More often than not, seal pups do not need help so feel free to observe them from 100 yards away!

However, if you notice a pup or a seal has not moved for hours at a time, it may be time to call one of your local organizations which can guide you in determining if the seal is indeed in need of assistance.

Sea Lions

Sea lions take group naps in the water, which is called “rafting”. When they do this, sometimes they stick one flipper out of the water to help thermoregulate their bodies and get rid of excess heat. This can look like they are caught in a net, but really they are just snoozing! However, if this flipper is thrashing around and is the only one you can see, it may be in need of assistance.

Sea Turtles

Sea turtles will come onto land to lay their eggs and then will return to the sea; once the eggs hatch, the baby turtles will make their way into the water. While it is not common for sea turtles to remain on land for long, unless they are acting abnormally or are entangled, they should return to the sea soon and not require assistance.

However, if you do see that the turtle is entangled or seems to be sick or acting strange, observe the turtle from a distance and collect the following information to relay to your local organization:

  • Is the animal moving, swimming or diving?
  • How and where is the turtle entangled: its flippers, head, or shell?
  • How many times is the line wrapped around the turtle?
  • Is there a buoy visible? What color is it? Is there an ID number visible?
  • If you have a camera on board, take photos of the turtle and the entangling gear. Please provide the photos to the responders, if requested.


  • Do not attempt to disentangle or capture the turtle.
  • Do not cut the anchoring line and release the turtle with gear still on it.
  • Do not get in the water with the turtle.
  • Call for assistance (phone numbers above) and remain on scene until you speak with a responder.

Stranded Marine Life

When you find a stranded marine mammal, make sure to call your local organization and stay on site and follow the agency’s directions. Stranded marine life can take many forms:

  • Whales, dolphins, and porpoises are considered stranded when they are found dead on the beach or floating in water or alive on the beach and unable to reach water on their own.
  • Seals and sea lions are considered stranded when they are found dead on land or floating in the water or in obvious need of medical attention. Because seals and sea lions spend a lot of time on land basking, always call your local organization for a professional opinion regarding their behavior!
  • Sea turtles are considered stranded when they are found on land or in the water and are dead, injured, or exhibit abnormal behavior or ill health.

COVID-19 Updates

“NOAA Fisheries has heard from its marine mammal and sea turtle stranding network partners who are making operational decisions based on COVID-19 that may impact the ability to respond to strandings and entanglement incidents. However, all stranding hotlines should remain staffed, and the public should continue to report all sightings of stranded animals to the appropriate contact number for your location (select your region below). As always, if you see a stranded marine mammal or sea turtle, keep people and pets back a safe distance of 50 yards (150 feet). There is currently no evidence to support claims that whales, sea lions or other marine mammals are infected with COVID-19. More information about pets and other animals is on this Centers for Disease Control] website.” - NOAA Fisheries

NPS Sea Otter.jpg

Local Rescue Agencies By Region

When you do need to call a local organization or authority, it will likely depend on your location or on the kind of marine wildlife that you are calling about. Keep your local phone numbers in your phone so you’re ready to call anytime you may come upon a marine animal in need of help!


Alabama Marine Mammal Stranding Hotline
877-WHALE HELP 877-942-5343
Alabama Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network Hotline
866-SEA TURTLE 877-732-8878
Dauphin Island Sea Lab


NOAA Fisheries Alaska Statewide 24-Hr Stranding Hotline
Marine Mammals - specifically, whales, seals, sea lions, porpoises, and dolphins
Alaska Sealife Center 240hr Stranding Hotline - Seward, AK
Marine Mammals - specifically, walruses, sea otters, and polar bears
Marine Mammals Management Office of the US Fish and Wildlife Service - Anchorage
800-362-5148 (business hrs only)
Marine Mammals - specifically, walruses, sea otters, and polar bears
Reporting Commercial death/injury off a marine mammal
Online Reporting Form

British Columbia

BC Marine Mammal Response Network
DFO Hotline
Canadian Resources
Reporting an Emergency Webpage


Live Animals in Distress
North Coast Marine Mammal Center - Del Norte and Humboldt
Marine Mammal Center - Mendocino, Sonoma, Napa, Marin, Solano, Contra Costa, Alameda, Santa Clara, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, Monterey, and San Luis Obispo
Channel Islands Marine and Wildlife Institute - Santa Barbara and Ventura
California Wildlife Center - Malibu only
Marine Animal Rescue - LA county, not including Malibu
Marine Mammal Care Center Los Angeles
Pacific Marine Mammal Center - Orange
SeaWorld of California - San Diego
Deceased Animals
Humboldt State University - Del Norte, Northern Mendocino, Humboldt
California Academy of Sciences - Southern Mendocino, Sonoma, Napa, Marin, Solano, Contra Costa, Sutter, San Joaquin, Alameda, Santa Clara, San Francisco, and San Mateo
Long Marine Laboratory - Santa Cruz
Moss Landing Marine Laboratory - Monterey
Channel Island Cetacean Research Unit - San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura
Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History - Los Angeles and Orange
NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center - San Diego

Connecticut/Rhode Island

Mystic Aquarium
860-572-5955 ext 107


MERR Institute, Inc


Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
888-404-FWCC 888-404-3922
Dolphins Plus Oceanside Marine Mammal Responders
NOAA Southeast Fisheries Science Center - Miami Lab
Northwest Florida Aquatic Preserves Office - Florida DEP
University of Florida Marine Animal Rescue


Georgia Marine Mammal Stranding Hotline
Georgia Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network


NOAA Office of Law Enforcement - Agana, GU
Marine Mammals and Sea Turtles
Conservation Office Hotline
Marine Mammals and Sea Turtles
Department of Agriculture and Wildlife Resources Administrative Office - Mangilao, GU
671-735-0281 or 671-735-0294 (Business Hours)
Marine Mammals and Sea Turtles


Hawai’i Statewide Marine Animal Stranding, Entanglement, and Reporting Hotline
Marine Mammals and Sea Turtles - specifically, sea turtles, monk seals, dolphins, whales
Hawai’i DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE) Hotline
Marine Mammals and Sea Turtles - specifically, sea turtles, monk seals, dolphins, whales
NOAA Office of Law Enforcement
Marine Mammals and Sea Turtles - specifically, sea turtles, monk seals, dolphins, whales
For non-emergencies involving monk seals


Louisiana Marine Mammal Stranding Hotline
Louisiana Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network
844-SEA-TRTL (844-732-8785)
For Sea turtles
NOAA Southeast Region Marine Mammal Stranding Network
For marine mammal strandings


Maine Marine Animal Reporting Hotline


Maryland Marine Animal Reporting Hotline


NOAA Hotline
866-755-NOAA (6622)
Seacoast Science Center
Province Center for Coastal Studies
Sea Turtles


Mississippi Marine Mammal and Sea Turtles Stranding Hotline
888-767-3657 or 228-369-4796
Mississippi Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network
Institute for Marine Mammal Studies

New Hampshire

NOAA Hotline

New Jersey

Marine Mammal Stranding Center

New York

New York Stranding Hotline

Northeast Region

Northeast Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Stranding and Entanglement Hotline
866-755-NOAA (6622)

North Carolina

North Carolina Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network Hotline
North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries
University of North Carolina - Wilmington Marine Mammal Stranding Program


Portland State University/Seaside Aquarium - All counties north of Tillamook
Oregon State University Marine Mammal Institute - All counties south of Tillamook

Pacific Islands General

NOAA Fisheries Pacific Islands Regional Office
808-725-5000 or

Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico Marine Mammal Stranding Hotline
Puerto Rico Department of National Resources
Manatees and Sirenians
US Fish and Wildlife Services
787-851-7297 ext 220
Manatees and Sirenians
Puerto Rico Manatee Conservation Center
Manatees, dolphins, porpoises, and whales
Puerto Rico Marine Mammal Stranding Hotline
Dolphins, porpoises, whales, walruses, and seals

South Carolina

South Carolina Stranding Hotline

Southeast Region

NOAA Fisheries Southeast Marine Mammal Stranding
877-WHALE HELP 877-942-5343


Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network Hotline
800-9MAMMAL (800-962-6625)
Texas Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network
361-949-8173 ext 226
Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

US Virgin Islands

US Virgin Islands Marine Mammal Stranding Hotline - Virgin Islands Division of Fish and Wildlife


Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center

Washington State

West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network
Washington Sea Otter Standing Hotline
1-97-SEAOTTER (1-877-326-8837)
Sea otters on the beach
Puget Sound
Whatcom County Marine Mammal Stranding Network
San Juan County Marine Mammal Stranding Network
Central Puget Sound Marine Mammal Stranding Network
Sno-King Marine Mammal Response
Seal Sitters Marine Mammal Stranding Network
MaST Center Stranding Team
Vashon Hydrophone Project
Washington Department of Fisheries and Wildlife
Cascadia Research Collective
Port Townsend Marine Science Center
360-385-5582 ext. 103
Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge
Feiro Marine Life Center
Makah Tribe
Olympic National Park
NOAA Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary
360-457-6622==West Coast Region==
West Coast Region Stranding Hotline
For marine mammals and sea turtles
NOAA Fisheries Entanglement Reporting Hotline
1-877-SOS-WHALE (1-877-767-9425)
Entangled whale
NOAA Fisheries Enforcement Hotline
Human harassing/harming of marine mammals