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Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program

This national program coordinates emergency responses to sick, injured, distressed, or dead marine mammals.

Hawaiian monk seal on a beach Hawaiian monk seal. Credit: NOAA Fisheries.

The Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program coordinates emergency responses to sick, injured, distressed, or dead seals, sea lions, dolphins, porpoises, and whales. The 1992 Amendments to the Marine Mammal Protection Act formalized this program and designated NOAA Fisheries' Office of Protected Resources as the lead agency to coordinate related activities. The program focuses on four primary areas:

  • Stranding and entanglement networks.
  • Unusual mortality event response.
  • Biosurveillance and baseline health research.
  • John H. Prescott Marine Mammal Rescue Assistance Grant Program.

Stranding and Entanglement Response Networks

A blue and white Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response logo showing illustrations of a dolphin, sea lion, and whale

The MMHSRP works with volunteer stranding and entanglement networks as well as local, tribal, state, and federal government agencies to coordinate and conduct emergency responses to stranded or entangled marine mammals. The Program provides network members with a Stranding Agreement from the NOAA Fisheries regional offices to ensure that all activities performed are safe for both responders and animals. The network members provide staff and local response capabilities, independently raising funds to cover the majority of their costs. The stranding and entanglement networks also perform a valuable biosurveillance role, as they are often the first to detect threats to marine mammal populations. To that end, stranding networks provide data to the MMHSRP through Level A Data Collection, which is stored in the National Stranding Database.

Unusual Mortality Event Response

A blue and white Unusual Mortality Event logo showing illustrations of a dolphin, sea lion, and manatee

While marine mammal strandings occur frequently, there are some cases where an unusually high number of live or dead animals may come ashore over a relatively short time span in the same geographic area. These Unusual Mortality Events can be a result of events such as a disease outbreak, environmental factors, or oil spills. The MMHSRP coordinates the Working Group on Marine Mammal Unusual Mortality Events, which leads the response and investigation into the causes of the UME.

You can contribute to the Unusual Mortality Event Fund, which helps fund our stranding networks’ response to, and investigation of, these events.

Biosurveillance and Baseline Health Research

Biosurveillance and baseline health research on marine mammals are important components of the program. While not “emergency response,” these studies provide context during a health emergency and may help predict when and where events may occur in the future. An important aspect of this program is the National Marine Mammal Tissue Bank, which provides protocols and techniques for the long-term storage of samples from marine mammals that can be used as baseline health comparisons for retrospective analyses.

John H. Prescott Marine Mammal Rescue Assistance Grant Program

The Prescott Grant Program provides funding for members of the national marine mammal stranding network through a competitive grant process. From 2001 through 2023, the Program awarded more than $75.4 million in funding through 893 competitive grants to Stranding Network members in 26 states, the District of Columbia, two territories, and three tribes. These grants support the rescue and rehabilitation of stranded marine mammals, data collection from living or dead stranded marine mammals for health research, and facility operating costs.

Regional Programs

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