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Maryland’s Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Program is Operational

Public Should Report Stranded Marine Animals to 24-hour Hotline

Photo of dolphin swimming in water not far from a boat

Photo by Mark Odell

During the summer months, marine mammals and sea turtles are making their seasonal return to the Atlantic coast, the Chesapeake Bay, and its tributaries. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources requests people report any distressed or deceased marine mammals or sea turtles in Maryland waters to the Natural Resources Police hotline anytime at 1-800-628-9944.

Maryland’s most common visitors are bottlenose dolphins and loggerhead sea turtles, although more than 25 other marine mammals and four species of sea turtles have been recorded in state waters. While these ocean-dwelling creatures often enter our waterways and can survive in brackish water for several days to weeks, they may be at risk

In addition to calling the hotline, anyone who finds a stranded marine mammal or sea turtle, alive or dead, should follow these steps if possible:

  • Do not touch or approach the animal or carcass.
  • Record your location using latitude/longitude, name of the body of water or street address, and/or description with landmarks.
  • Estimate and record the size, color, noticeable body parts, any visible injuries or signs of trauma, and any movements. Use an object such as a shoe, beach towel, or boat for scale to estimate the animal’s length.
  • Take cell phone photos of the animal.
  • Remain in the area at a safe distance from the animal until stranding staff are able to reach you.
  • Due to current precautions, it is important to maintain proper social distancing from other onlookers and from stranding response staff. 

Under COVID-19 safety protocols, the department’s Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Stranding program is still operational but has limited and restricted response capabilities. Staff are currently only authorized to respond to “critical” cases, which include large whales, unusual and/or high mortality events, and human interaction cases such as net or fishing line entanglement. Staff are not authorized to respond for the sole purpose of carcass removal or disposal. 

The Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Stranding Response Program works cooperatively with the National Aquarium in response to reports of marine animals throughout Maryland’s waters and coastlines. 

Marine mammals are specifically protected by the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act. In addition, sea turtles and whales are both protected under the 1973 Endangered Species Act. It is illegal to harass, hunt, capture, or collect these marine species, alive or dead, including any body parts or skeletal remains. Violators could face civil penalties up to $11,000, up to one year in prison, forfeiture of any vessel involved, and penalties for that vessel up to $25,000.


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