UNIVERSITY OF ALASKA FAIRBANKS

Marine Mammals

whale stranding
Dr. Stephen Raverty, a veterinary pathologist with the British Columbia Ministry of Agriculture and Lands Animal Health Center in Abbotsford, BC, Canada, performs a necropsy of a killer whale in 2013 on a shoreside ledge at Carroll Inlet. Photo by Gary Freitag/Alaska Sea Grant.

Interaction and conservation

Marine mammals and their interactions with humans have become increasingly common and complex in the past decade. The public's appreciation and concern for marine mammal conservation have grown with their knowledge and exposure to these unique mammals. Whale watching and ecotourism trades have created new potential for positive and negative marine mammal-human interactions in Alaska. Alaska Natives are active in co-management and research of marine mammals used for subsistence.

Documentation and regulation

The past decade has seen increased documentation and regulation of marine mammal interactions with commercial fishermen. With the reauthorization of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) in 1988, a compromise involving fishing industry and conservation representatives forced the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to better document the nature and extent of marine mammal–fishery interactions and regulate those of greatest biological significance. In addition to reducing incidental marine mammal bycatch, Alaskan fishermen have faced increasing restrictions meant to reduce potential competition with Steller sea lions and other endangered species.

Marine mammals and the Marine Advisory Program (MAP)

Combined, the public's need for marine mammal information and escalated regulatory complexity have spanned both U.S. coasts but are especially extensive in Alaska. MAP will remain involved in pertinent research efforts, respond to both informal and technical marine mammal questions, and encourage public participation in marine mammal science and conservation. For more information, please contact Gay Sheffield, Nome MAP Agent.

Guide to Marine Mammals of Alaska

The only book that covers all 29 marine mammal species of Alaska, including illustrations, descriptions, and range maps. $25.00. Order this book

Report a marine mammal stranding

Report online or call the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward: 907-224-6395 or 1-888-774-7325 (24 hr). 

Regional contacts

Federal contacts

  • Whale, porpoise, seal, or sea lion: National Marine Fisheries Service Stranding Hotline: 1-877-925-7773 (24 hr)
  • Sea otter, walrus, or polar bear: US Fish and Wildlife Service Marine Mammal Management Office in Anchorage: 1-800-362-5148 (business hours)

Do and Don't ...

DO keep people and pets away from the stranded animal. Record, as best you can:

  • Date and time
  • Geographic location of the animal (latitude and longitude if possible)
  • Species, if known
  • Is the animal dead or alive?
  • Is the animal in the water or up on the beach?
  • Is the animal alone or are there others?
  • Are there any signs of injuries or abnormalities?
  • Does the animal have any tags or identifying marks?
  • Take photos if you are at least 100 yards away.

DON'T touch, move, try to feed, push back into the water, or otherwise disturb the animal. Marine mammals are protected by federal law.

Safety first. Marine mammals are wild animals and getting too close puts you at risk for being bitten or injured. Marine mammals should not be approached closer than 100 yards. Alive or dead, it can carry diseases that are transmittable to humans. Also, stranded animals are likely already stressed, and your presence will increase their stress.

Alaska Natives and marine mammals

The Marine Mammal Protection Act allows Alaska Natives to hunt marine mammals and salvage any marine mammal parts. In more remote areas of Alaska, samples from dead stranded marine mammals are often the only source, or one of very few sources, of data for those animals.