Marine Mammal Stranding Network

Status: current

Project summary:

All marine mammals are federally protected. As the local stranding coordinator, PTMSC staff and volunteers respond to calls about stranded marine mammals in our area. Our role is to keep shoreline visitors and their pets at a safe distance from marine mammals, and collect data on live and dead animals. We cover the coastline of east Jefferson County, WA, from Brinnon to Dungeness Spit.

California sea lion
photo by: Betsy Carlson

PTMSC is part of the West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network, which is overseen by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network program was formalized by 1992 Amendments to the Marine Mammal Protection Act. NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is the lead agency and coordinates related activities. Volunteer stranding networks exist in all coastal states and are authorized through Stranding Agreements from NMFS regional offices.

PTMSC covers the shoreline from Brinnon to the west side of Sequim Bay.

As a partner in the regional stranding network, PTMSC staff and volunteers:

  • respond to reports of stranded marine mammals,
  • keep shoreline users and their pets at a safe distance,
  • and collect data from dead animals.

Periodically we process a dead marine mammal to use for display in our exhibits, or for educational programs. Our agreement with NOAA allows us to curate these items.

In downtown Port Townsend you can visit the Whale on the Wharf. In the PTMSC Museum at Fort Worden State Park, you can visit our gray whale and orca exhibits.

How do I know if a marine mammal is stranded?

A stranding occurs in the wild and involves one or more marine mammals. A stranded marine mammal may be: dead onshore or floating in the water; alive but injured or unable to return to the water; or alive but unable to return to its natural habitat without assistance. Any animal that appears injured, in distress or out of its natural habitat should be reported. When in doubt, please report the animal.

Seals and sea lions come ashore for part of each day to rest, regulate their temperature and socialize. This is normal behavior. Keep 100 yards from marine mammals on shore if possible. Do not attempt to touch, harass or feed marine mammals.

What to do if you find a stranded marine mammal

  • Report a stranded marine mammal that may be sick, injured, entangled, or dead. Call either:
    • NOAA’s West Coast Stranding Network, 866-767-6114.
    • Or, locally within the PTMSC response zone, call 360-385-5582 x103
  • Give the animal plenty of space; 100 yards is recommended. 
  • Please keep your distance and do not feed, touch, or move the animal.
  • Leash your dog. Wild animals can carry zoonotic diseases that are harmful to pets and humans.
  • Take a photo and note your location.
  • Inform those around you about the animal’s location and the need to give it space.

PTMSC responding to stranded marine mammals

Much of the work of the PTMSC Stranding Network is carried out by a team of trained volunteers.

When a stranding is reported, a volunteer responder is often sent out to investigate. Photos, measurements, and other information are gathered to help determine if further action is needed, and add to our understanding of marine animals. 

Data is added to NOAA’s national database. This is used for a variety of purposes such as tracking human interaction (entanglement), or identifying unusual mortality rates.

When an animal is found dead, sometimes responders or staff collect the specimen so that a necropsy (animal autopsy) can be performed.

Harbor seal pups and occasionally elephant seals or sea lions haul out in public places for extended periods. When contact with humans or pets is likely, volunteers serve as Seal Sitters. They minimize disturbance to the seal by educating the public on why the animal may be hauled out and by keeping people and dogs a safe distance away.

How to become a stranding network responder

To get involved with the PTMSC Marine Mammal Stranding Network, contact our volunteer coordinator at or visit the volunteer webpage.



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