Strandings sometimes are simply the result of an animal being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Harbor porpoises, for example, can become trapped in a marsh during an outgoing tide. Heavy seas resulting from storms can leave animals exhausted, disoriented or separated from their group. And regrettably, human interaction (by entanglement in fishing gear, ship strike or gunshot) is sometimes the culprit.
Seals regularly come ashore to rest, but people often assume that a beached seal is in distress. Some seals can in fact spend many days ashore at a time, and they do not need to stay wet. Learn more about seal strandings and what to do if you find a seal on the beach.
Sea turtles in our region do not typically come ashore unless they are seriously debilitated. As winter approaches, water temperatures around New England drop, and any turtles remaining in the area will have their body temperatures fall below their tolerable limits. Severely hypothermic or "cold-stunned" turtles drift helplessly with winds and currents, and many of them certainly die this way. Some of these animals are fortunate to drift ashore alive (often following the first cold front of the winter season) where they have a chance of being rescued. Learn more about sea turtle strandings and our rescued sea turtles.
Dolphins can strand for many reasons, and experts are not always able to identify a single cause for a stranding. Contributing factors can include poor weather, illness, parasites or injury. But many strandings appear to be simply accidental. Dolphins are open ocean creatures, and may be caught unawares by the coastal tide, which can drop water levels by as much as 10 feet in Cape Cod. Shallow, silty conditions in shoreline areas compound the problem by reducing the effectiveness of the animals' echolocation.