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BDMLR - Marine Mammal Medic Handbook
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The copyright of this publication belongs to the BDMLR
for contact details regarding publication see
Title Page


Please send a copy of the completed sheets to James Barnett (see Appendix I)

MARC Stranded Cetacean Initial Report

Date and time
Report written by Attending vet
Tel. no:
Tel. no:
Number of animals stranded: NB report needed for each animal.


Dead (look for opening/ closing of blowhole)

How long stranded:


Species (see notes)
Length (cm)

Girth (cm)

(See Diagram)
Name/no. assigned
If present, record tag number, colour and any contact details:
If species unknown: Description of beak/snout:






Skin colour & markings (also add to diagram)

Nearest town or village and county
Name of beach/cove
OS map reference
Access to beach


in direct sunlight
in shade
Weather conditions
in the surf
above the surf
Sea state
on sand
on shingle
on rocks Tide status


Time of assessment:
If any parts of the assessment are carried out later, e.g. by attending vet, please enter time in relevant box.
Lying position (see notes)
Breathing rate (see notes)

/ minute(s)

(Significant gap between breathing out and in?) (see notes)
Breathing quality (shallow/weak/explosive)
Breathing noise (absent/harsh/bubbling/coughing)
Heart Rate (see notes)


Capillary Refill Time (see notes):
Mucous membranes colour (see notes):
Auscultation (see notes)
Demeanor (alert/struggling/unresponsive):
Reflexes/muscle tone (see notes):
Palpebral reflex:
Blowhole reflex:
Jaw tone:
Trauma, lesions and skin damage: Enter locations on the diagram
Any refloat attempt(s) already made? (i.e. release off the beach - see notes)



If Yes, how was it carried out and how long was taken over it?
Skin condition (see notes):
If yes to either wrinkled or peeling, indicate area on diagram, or write whole body by your tick
Skin Tone (see notes)
very spongy
Any discharges present? (from mouth, blowhole, anus, genital slit - indicate nature: blood, mucus, pus, other) (see notes)
Body Temperature C (see notes)
Body Condition (look at muscles either side of dorsal fin):
Poor (muscles concave dipping)
Moderate (muscles slightly rounded/flat)
Good (muscles convex/well rounded)
Eyes (see notes) Right
Any other signs/observations, e.g. behaviour in the water before the stranding:

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Sketch appearance of animal, including traumatic lesions, skin damage, etc.

Indicate depth of lesions (through skin/blubber/muscle). Please also describe any other abnormalities seen, e.g. scoliosis, pectoral flipper dislocation and any identifying features for the animal. Positions for length and girth measurements are given on the diagram below.

Any Photos taken?
No If yes, please send in copies with this report if possible.

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Explanatory notes

How long stranded

Important in determining prognosis, due to insidious onset of shock and muscle damage with time after stranding.

Species identification

Use RSPCA booklet, Sea Watch identification guide or British Divers handbook


Check if lying on side; females; anus is close to or at back of genital slit and may see mammary slits on either side; in males, gap between anus and genital slit is greater and there are no mammary slits.

Lying position

If the animal has been lying on its side for some time this may lead to pooling of blood on one side which can increase the likelihood of muscle and organ damage and disturb the animals equilibrium.

Breathing Rate

Count openings of the blowhole over several minutes in large animals. Normal rates -dolphins/ porpoises: 2-5 breaths/min., pilot whales: approx. 1 breath/min.. Elevated with stress and respiratory disease. With stress, rates may rise markedly, but should fall when stress factor is removed. In small cetaceans, rates that remain above 10/min. for prolonged periods are indicative of a poor prognosis.

Significant gap between breathing out and breathing in?

Normal breathing pattern consists of periods of breath holding, ended by a forceful breathing out immediately followed by breathing in. A prolonged gap (>4 secs. in small cetaceans) between breathing out and in may be seen with pneumonia or the onset of shock.

Skin condition

Deteriorates once out of water, due to effects of sun and wind. Excessive skin loss is associated with a poor prognosis.

Capillary refill time

Press firmly on gums and record the time taken for the pink colour to reappear, i.e. for blood to return. Gives an indication of how well the circulation is working.

Mucous membranes colour

Easiest to check gum colour. If pale may be anaemic, or because going into dive reflex (when will usually also breath hold), which may be triggered when handled; if dark red, could be toxaemic, or due to local irritation.

Skin tone

A sponginess or loss of tone, when hands are pressed against the animals flanks, may be consistent with dehydration.


Lungs - cranial and ventral to dorsal fin; may reveal moist rales and emphysema, although complicated by forceful, noisy lung sounds with normal respiration. Heart - between pectoral flippers in cetaceans <3 metres; may reveal murmurs.

Heart rate

Beats can be felt in animals up to 8 metres in length, behind base of pectoral flipper. N.B. Rate varies with breathing cycle.

Any discharges present?

Excessive bleeding from blowhole, mouth, anus or mucoid, pussy blowhole discharge are poor prognostic signs.

Body temperature

In animals <50kg, use standard digital thermometer; in animals >50kg, use a flexible probe, 20-30cm long or a sealed digital thermometer securely attached to a stomach tube. Normal range: 36-37.5C; over 42C is likely to be terminal.

Reflexes/muscle tone

May give an indication of level of consciousness in depressed animal. Palpebral (eyelid) reflex: should close eye when gently touched on eyelid; blowhole reflex: should tighten blowhole when gently touched on the edge; jaw tone: should resist opening of mouth. Poor reflexes and muscle tone may occur with shock and a decreased level of consciousness, and are a poor prognostic sign.

Body condition

Animals in poor condition are not candidates for refloating. This may also be the case for animals in moderate condition, particularly for harbour porpoises in winter. Interpret lumbar muscle profile with care; profile may be distorted when beached and animals in good bodily condition may be suffering from severe, acute illness.

Trauma, lesions and skin damage

Superficial trauma, often occurring during stranding, generally is not clinically significant, despite often heavy bleeding. Deeper wounds, penetrating the muscle layer will affect prognosis. Fractures and dislocations also affect prognosis, but may be difficult to detect. The stranding event itself can cause significant muscle damage, which may not be clinically apparent; checking blood samples for raised muscle enzyme levels may help with determining prognosis.


Surface (cornea) often damaged on stranding, but this should not affect the prognosis. An animal that closes its eyes during the course of a stranding may be lapsing into shock or a decreased level of consciousness.

Any refloat attempts made?

Important to determine if animal has already been pushed back into the sea. A hastily carried out refloat often leads to an animal restranding, may partially explain the animal’s condition on assessment, and affect its prognosis.

Behaviour in water, on refloating

Careful monitoring of behaviour and response to being refloated is important part of assessment. Abnormal behaviour includes uncoordinated movements - twitching and tremors - and pronounced flexion/curving of trunk. Disorientation, listing and an inability to swim are not initially poor signs, as these can take several hours to correct.

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M.A.R.C. Recording Sheet

Record breathing rate at least every 15 minutes, other individual parameters at least every 30 minutes and others at vet/carer’s discretion




Breathing Rate


Heart Rate



Mucous membrane colour and Capillary Refill Time
Other observations/Parameters e.g. body temperature, demeanor, reflexes, auscultation, breathing quality, skin condition/tone, discharges, eyes, faeces/urine voided, etc.

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M.A.R.C. Procedures, treatment and sampling sheet





Procedures carried out, including:
First aid;
e.g. getting upright, putting on mattress, trenches for pectorals, spraying, shade/windbreaks, moving etc.
Refloat attempts: including method, procedure in water.
Fluids and drugs given; drug, route given, dose, etc (including euthanasia)
Samples taken: include nature of sample and where sent to (attach results if possible)
Record any responses to procedures/treatments and reasons for any decisions

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