A few useful tips for marine wildlife encounters

In talking about recent beach discoveries, it also brings about an important question that many of us may not know the answer to… What to do and who to call if we find apparently sick or injured marine wildlife on the beach?

It’s a tricky one, but in the case of marine mammals and seabirds, it’s worth getting further advice. Most often, the best we can do is call for help, take some photos from a distance, and make sure we prevent other people (and possibly their pets) from getting too close. It is very hard to successfully rehabilitate injured, starved or sick marine animals, and we can do more harm than good in trying to intervene ourselves.

The birthing of seal pups can sometimes occur on our beaches. It is very important not to move or take a lone pup. Shortly after birth, the female seal will often leave for the water to feed, then return to the pup. Any chance for the pup relies on it being left where it was found, and calling the appropriate group for further help. If you see a birthing seal that looks distressed the same advice applies. Keep your distance, take a photo if you can, and make a phone call.

It is not uncommon to see seabirds (such as petrels and shearwaters) washed ashore – sometimes if they are still alive, it can be a very distressing thing to leave them. If you think the situation is not natural (i.e. entanglement, large numbers of deceased animals) then it is worth reporting. It is also very difficult to successfully rehabilitate seabirds (who need specific dietary care).

Some wildlife found on beaches where help was needed; (left) Fiordland Penguin, (middle) Juvenile Australasian Gannet, (right) seal pup (Photos: L.Kivisalu).

Here are some suggested contacts if you come across marine wildlife and need to call help or ask for advice:


For Victoria, the Department of Environment, Land Water and Planning have an emergency hotline for marine mammals including whales, dolphins and seals to report injured, stranded or dead animals – ph: 1300 136 017. The department work closely with the Marine Response Unit (operated from Zoos Victoria) that includes a team of expert keepers and vets that can assist in response. Deceased cetaceans is also something worth reporting through the above contacts, and for dolphins you can try the Dolphin Research Institute ph: (03) 5979 7100.

For seabirds or other animals on the beach that you think require assistance, you can contact the Wildlife Victoria emergency response line on ph: (03) 8400 7300 . They have a network of emergency animal responders and carers that (if available within your area) will be able to assist. If you happen to know the contact details a registered carer that has the capacity to, and specialises in care of the particular animal, then you are one step ahead. Remember, even injured and tired animals can often try to defend themselves – and can do some serious damage. Do not try to assist in recovering animals if you are inexperienced.

South Australia

In South Australia you can contact the Australian Marine Wildlife Research and Rescue Organisation (AMWRRO) on their 24 hour service, ph: (08) 8262 5452. You can also call your nearest Department of Environment and Water (DEW) office  or the General Enquiries Line on ph: (08) 8204 1910.


If you haven’t yet found assistance and think there is an animal or animals in urgent need of assistance (such as a severe wound, or oil spill) you should call your local veterinary service.

It is important to remember that is is against the law in Australia for anyone who is not licensed by the appropriate government agency to posses or treat marine wildlife.




Lauren Kivisalu