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

Where possible and safe to do so, you may be requested to maintain visual contact with the entangled whale or dolphin and provide information until the rescue team arrives.

Fact sheets

Whale and dolphin strandings fact sheet (PDF, 1.5 MB)
Whale and dolphin strandings fact sheet (DOCX, 39.2 KB)

Whale and Dolphin Entanglement Fact Sheet (PDF, 1.9 MB)
Whale and Dolphin Entanglement Fact Sheet (DOCX, 37.6 KB)

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 rescue equipment such as rescue mats.

The rescue 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.

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

Debris that cause harm to whales or dolphins include:

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

Emergency response

We have the primary responsibility as the control agency to manage whale and dolphin entanglements.

Our staff carry out disentanglement operations on large whales in accordance with protocols and procedures based on international standards.  It is very difficult to remove entanglements from dolphins.

Live whale and dolphin entanglements are managed by DELWP and with support from Parks Victoria and Fisheries Victoria who provide vessels and operators, as well as a number of personnel accredited in disentanglement operations.

In the event of an emergency, our officers will assess the situation to determine the appropriate response.

If needed an Incident Management Team (IMT) will be set up under the AIIMS structure. In this situation an Incident Controller, responsible for managing all aspects of the incident, will be assigned.

The rescue team operates with the main aim of removing the object off the whale or dolphin without jeopardising the safety of the rescuers.

They use specialised equipment including boats, tracking devices and aerial support to find reported entangled whales and then, if possible, attempt to disentangle the whale.

Disentanglement training

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

Rigorous training to comply with competency standards is required to ensure the safety of all involved.

Staff from the Departments of Sustainability and Environment and Primary Industries take to the seas to strengthen their joint ability to help entangled whales.

Whale Disentanglement Training video transcript

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 whale.

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

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

Call our Customer Service Centre on 136 186 for further information on wildlife emergencies and volunteering.