Accommodation of Casualty Whales & Dolphins (Wildlife Casualty Management)

Summary Information
Type of technique Health & Management / UK Wildlife Casualty Management/ Techniques:
Synonyms and Keywords N.B.  This information should be read in association with Wildlife Casualty Accommodation which contains background information together with links to the Electronic Library and Organisations (UK Contacts). The related Species pages contain similar linkages.
Description This page has been prepared for the "UK Wildlife: First Aid and Care" Wildpro module, and is designed for the needs of the following species: Balaenoptera acutorostrata - Minke Whale, Delphinus delphis - Common dolphin, Globicephala melas - Long-finned pilot whale, Grampus griseus - Risso's dolphin, Lagenorhynchus acutus - Atlantic white-sided dolphin, Lagenorhynchus albirostris - White-beaked dolphin,  Orcinus orca - Killer whale, Phocoena phocoena - Common porpoise, Physeter macrocephalus - Sperm whale, Stenella coeruleoalba - Striped dolphin, Tursiops truncatus - Bottle-nosed dolphin.

These species are within the families Balaenopteridae, Delphinidae, Phocoenidae, Physeteridae.

Transport Container:

  • "It is strongly recommended that specialist equipment is used if attempting transportation of a cetacean." (D23)
  • "Suspended stretchers, air and water mattresses have all been used successfully to date." (D23
    • During transportation care should be taken to avoid excessive pressure on fins.
    • It should be possible to keep the skin moist and control the cetacean's body temperature.
    • It is important to ensure that the material on which the cetacean lies does not damage its sensitive skin and that it provides sufficient cushioning to prevent physical damage to the animal during transportation.
  • Stretchers are available which have been specifically designed for cetaceans. These have holes for the pectoral flippers, which need to be well padded.
  • (D14)

Short term (Immediate/Emergency) Accommodation:

  • Inflatable pool may be erected at the site of a small stranded cetacean.
  • Requires a flat surface for its erection.
  • Require frequent pumping of sea water to keep the water in the pool replenished.
  • Allows initial refloating of a small cetacean e.g. if sea conditions are unsuitable for refloatation.
  • (D14, D23, D42)

Medium-term (Hospitalisation) Accommodation:

  • Minimum requirements:
    • No more than two hours transport time from the stranding site.
    • Pool of at least 9 metres diameter, with padded sides.
    • Support systems available for animals in the water.
    • A salt water supply and full saltwater treatment equipment.
    • Controlled environment.
    • Isolation of the pool and its surroundings from the public.
    • Appropriate handling facilities.
    • Facilities for 24-hour observation of the casualty cetacean.
    • Experienced qualified personnel to staff the facility.
    • (D14)
  • No suitable facilities are available in the UK at this time. (D42)

Long-term (Rehabilitation and Permanent) Accommodation:

  •  Not available in the UK at the present time. (D14).
Appropriate Use (?)
  • The decision to move a stranded cetacean to a rehabilitation facility must be taken carefully with due consideration as to whether this is the most humane option for that animal. (D42)
  • Mobile pool may allow:
    • Delayed refloatation when sea conditions prohibit immediate refloatation. 
    • Improved veterinary assessment of the casualty. (D23)
    • Delayed refloatation for short term treatment of severely dehydrated individuals. (D42)
  • Rehabilitation accommodation, if available, may allow treatment for days to a few weeks and would be suitable for pelagic or coastal species of any age (not very large animals), including juveniles for hand-rearing, of poor to good (not emaciated) body condition, with some clinical signs of disease or with injuries requiring more than first aid treatment.(D23, D42)
  • Pool accommodation at a permanent facility would have to be an isolation pool (away from permanent residents) and a skilled team of personnel would also be required.(P24.335.w5)
  • --
Complications/ Limitations / Risk
  • Once inside a pool, cetaceans which have been stranded frequently require physical support for hours to days if they are to remain at the surface and upright (D44).
  • Cetaceans have delicate skin and care is required to avoid damage by transport containers.
  • There is a risk of the animal developing hyperthermia while in a transport container.
Equipment / Chemicals required and Suppliers
  • Two inflatable pools suitable for emergency use are available in the UK at present and are held at the RSPCA Norfolk Wildlife Hospital and Welsh Marine Life Rescue.
  • No suitable hospitalisation/rehabilitation accommodation for cetaceans is available in the UK at this time. (D42)
Expertise level / Ease of Use A high level of expertise is required; expert organisations must be contacted:
Cost/ Availability
  • Availability of suitable specialist equipment is limited.
Legal and Ethical Considerations
  • Accommodation for casualty wild animals should be designed to minimise the stress on the animal and to minimise the risk of injury to that animal.
  • A wild animal in captivity is protected under the same welfare legislation as domestic animals, e.g. Protection of Animals Acts 1911-2000; under this legislation it is an offence to treat a captive animal cruelly or to cause it unnecessary suffering.
    • This includes an obligation to provide proper attention and care.
    • The keeper has a duty to keep all wildlife casualties in a fit manner, in accommodation of a size which allows reasonable movement and with an environment suitable for its normal way of life.
    • (J35.147.w1, P19.2.w1, D27, D28)
  • Accommodation which does not fulfil the physiological and psychological requirements of the animal and results in an inadequate level of fitness at the time of release may seriously compromise the survival ability of that animal. Release of an animal which is unfit may be an offence under the Abandonment of Animals Act 1960. (J35.147.w1, W5.Jan01)
  • Risks to human health, both physical and risk of zoonotic illness must be minimised: Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974.
  • See: Legislation relating to Wildlife Casualties.
Author Debra Bourne
Referee Becki Lawson and Suzanne Boardman

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