Call the Whale and Dolphin Emergency Hotline on 1300 136 017 immediately should you become aware of a stranded or injured whale or dolphin.

Managing stranding emergencies

What is a stranding?

A stranding emergency happens when a normally free-swimming animal is found trapped onshore or in shallow waters.

Stranding emergencies are classed as either single strandings involving one animal or a mother-calf pair, or mass strandings that may involve multiple animals. Large strandings can require a significant number of trained personnel and volunteers to respond.

Historically, Victoria has an average of four to seven whale or dolphin strandings every year.

DELWP manages stranding emergencies in accordance with the Victorian Cetacean Emergency Plan (VCEP). This plan outlines consistent standards and procedures to help staff respond to these emergencies.

Several  support agencies help us with the emergency response, including Parks Victoria, which often manages inquiries from the general public and access to the stranding site.

In the event of an emergency, our officers will assess the situation to determine the appropriate response and if needed, an Incident Management Team (IMT) will be set up under the AIIMS structure.

An Incident Controller is assigned to manage all aspects of the incident.

What happens in stranding emergencies

Live whale or dolphin strandings are managed under DELWP supervision by experts using specialised equipment.

The response team will assess the situation and, if necessary, take action to prevent any other animals that have not already stranded from doing so.

Attempts will be made to return the stranded animal to the ocean if it is safe and possible to do so. Whales will only be returned to the ocean if their physical and social condition is not compromised and chances of survival are high.

In some situations, the most humane treatment for stranded, and particularly large whales, will be to let them die of natural causes. These animals should continue to be protected from the sun and kept cool as much as practically possible throughout this process.

If the animal is suffering badly, then persisting in attempts to save it only prolongs its pain.

In this case it may be necessary for authorised DELWP officers to euthanase the animal. The decision as to whether to perform euthanasia or allow animals to die naturally will depend on:

  • the circumstances of the stranding
  • the size of the animal
  • the expertise of personnel performing the procedure.

Managing entanglement emergencies

What is an entanglement?

All whales and dolphins are at risk of entanglement caused by marine debris and fishing industry equipment.

A whale or dolphin entanglement emergency occurs when a free-swimming animal is confined or hindered by netting, fishing lines or other debris of human origin such as plastic strapping and sheeting.  Debris that cause harm to whales or dolphins include:

  • plastic garbage
  • bottles
  • ropes
  • derelict fishing gear
  • ship-sourced, non-biodegradable floating materials.

Entanglements may cause distress, suffering, serious injury, compromised breeding success or death to the entangled animal.

Emergency response

DELWP is the control agency to manage whale and dolphin entanglements and undertakes response activities with support from Parks Victoria (PV) and Victorian Fisheries Authority (VFA) who provide vessels and operators, as well as a number of personnel accredited in disentanglement operations.

Trained and accredited teams undertake large whale disentanglement operations in accordance with protocols and procedures based on international standards.  It is very difficult to remove entanglements from dolphins.

In the event of an entanglement, an Incident Management Team (IMT) operating under emergency arrangements is established under the direction of an Incident Controller (IC).  Initially the whale and the entanglement are assessed by response teams by air and from on water.  They will assess the species of whale, its behaviour and direction of travel, the type and extent of the entanglement and where it is positioned on the whale. The location of the whale and current and predicted sea and weather conditions are also considered..  From this information, the IMT will determine if a response can be undertaken safely, and develop and a appropriate response strategy based on a Standard Operating Procedure.

Response activities may occur over a number of days and will be dependant on favourable weather and sea conditions.  If the on water operating environment is not considered safe, response operations will pause and resume once conditions improve.  On water operations are only conducted during daylight hours.

Disentanglement training

Disentanglement operations usually require less personnel than a stranding event, but are highly specialised tasks with extreme safety risks.

DELWP, PV and VFA staff undergo rigorous training to comply with competency standards is required to ensure the safety of all involved.  Following initial training they participate in a yearly reaccreditation process through undertaking on water training exercises and assessments

How can I help?

If you see an entangled whale, you should report it to the Whale and Dolphin Emergency Hotline on 1300 136 017.  

If you are on water, please do not approach the whale as this may place you and your vessel in danger and may further harm and stress the whale.  Vessel, drones and aircraft should remain at least 300m from all whales.

Remember: whales and dolphins are protected

Marine mammals are protected under law. It is illegal for any member of the public to interfere with them on sea or land.

Significant penalties apply to people who take unauthorised samples or souvenirs such as teeth from a dead whale or dolphin.

It is a major offence to possess material taken from whales or dolphins.

It can also be dangerous to approach a stranded or entangled whale.

We will respond appropriately, taking into consideration the safety of personnel and welfare of the animal.

Call the Whale and Dolphin Emergency Hotline on 1300 136 017 to report an emergency.

Page last updated: 03/08/21