TECHNIQUE

Lifting and Moving of Stranded 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 Handling and Transport 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

Cetaceans should never be picked up by the pectoral flippers, the dorsal fin or the tail. (D14)

Tarpaulin:

  • Small cetaceans may be carried or if necessary dragged short distances by using a tarpaulin:
    • The pectoral fin on one side is gently folded downwards against the animals belly.
    • The animal is then rolled onto this side.
    • The tarpaulin, half rolled up, is placed against the animals' belly.
    • The other pectoral fin is gently folded downwards against the animals belly and the animal rolled onto that side on the tarpaulin. 
    • The tarpaulin is unrolled and the animal gently pushed back into an upright (sternal recumbency) position.
    • The sides of the tarpaulin can be rolled up and used for carrying or if the animal is too heavy, dragging, the animal.
    • Never drag a cetacean over rocks or shingle.
    • Never drag a cetacean without using a tarpaulin.
    • (D14)

Air mattress:

  • This may be used to provide additional support under a cetacean e.g. on rocky/shingle beaches. (D14)

Pontoon: These should only be used by personnel who have been trained in their correct fitting and use.

  • Designed for aiding in the refloatation of larger cetaceans such as pilot whales (for whales of about two tonnes body weight) and have been used in series for larger individuals.
  • Also may be used to assist in supporting large cetaceans in an upright position (sternal recumbency) while beached.
  • A full description of the use of pontoons is given in D14  (Available in the Electronic Library: BDMLR Marine Mammal Medic Handbook.)
  • Mat is placed under the whale:
    • The pectoral fin on one side is gently folded downwards against the animals belly.
    • The animal is then rolled onto this side.
    • The mat, half rolled up, is placed against the animals' belly so that the front of the mat is level with the front of the whale's pectoral fins.
    • The other pectoral fin is gently folded downwards against the animals belly and the animal rolled onto that side on the mat. 
    • The mat is unrolled and the animal gently pushed back into an upright (sternal recumbency) position.
  • If this is not possible, the mat is slid under the whale from the front.
  • It is important to make sure than no sand or grit gets between the mat and the whale and that the mat does not form folds of excess material against the whale.
  • The pectoral fins must be inside the mat and the front of the mat level with the front of these fins.
  • The pontoons, still deflated are attached to the mat, one pontoon at a time, as low down as possible, rolling the whale slightly to one side then the other as necessary. Care is important to ensure the pontoons are attached on the correct sides.
  • The pontoons are inflated, one half inflated, then the other fully inflated, then the first fully inflated.
  • (D14)

General Anaesthesia and Sedation:

  • Not routinely required during casualty management of cetaceans in the UK.

Appropriate Use (?)
  • If stranded cetaceans need to be moved to a more comfortable location (e.g. out of direct sunlight, away from sharp rocks)
  • For transport of a cetacean into water.
Notes
  • Pontoons have been specially designed for lifting larger cetaceans.
Complications/ Limitations / Risk
  • Cetaceans should never be picked up by the pectoral flippers, the dorsal fin or the tail. (D14)
  • Never drag a cetacean over rocks or shingle.
  • Never drag a cetacean without using a tarpaulin.
  • The presence of sand, grit or folds of material against the cetacean within e.g. a mat used for lifting a cetacean using pontoons may cause physical damage to the animal.
  • Care must be taken to avoid damaging the flippers while lifting and moving cetaceans
  • Cetaceans must never be rolled over their backs.
Equipment / Chemicals required and Suppliers
  • Tarpaulins - widely available from yachting, camping and farming stores.
  • Air mattresses - widely available from camping stores and mail order catalogues.
  • Pontoons - specialist equipment
Expertise level / Ease of Use
  • Experienced personnel and suitable equipment are required for lifting and moving cetaceans (D14, D23). Any person wishing to be involved in the rescue of stranded cetaceans should seek appropriate training, such as the courses run by British Divers Marine Life Rescue. 
Cost/ Availability
  • Tarpaulins suitable for moving small cetaceans are not too expensive and are generally available.
  • Pontoons are expensive and are held in a a limited number of locations: 15 sets are presently available at strategic locations in the U.K. (D14).
Legal and Ethical Considerations
  • Particular attention should be paid to the zoonotic risks posed by Brucellosis and "cetacean finger" (bacterial infection which may be seen associated with bites/cuts) when handling cetacea.
  • Sea shores are potentially hazardous environments. The risks to human health and safety must be remembered: these include sharp rocks, water and the external environment, which may lead to physical injury, drowning, hypothermia or (less commonly in the UK) hyperthermia/sunstroke. All personnel who may work in such conditions must be given adequate training to ensure that they are aware of the risks and know how to minimise these risks.
  • Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 applies to protect any employees of a wildlife hospital, as well as volunteers at the hospital and visitors. Appropriate safety procedures must be provided to take into account any special risks involved with persons working with non-domesticated species (J35.147.w1, B142.4.w4, B156.21.w21)
Author Debra Bourne
Referee Becki Lawson and Suzanne Boardman
References

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