Skip to page content

Press release

Out of the Blue


Whale, dolphin and porpoise strandings in the UK have more than doubled in the last 10 years, reveal new statistics, published today by the Natural History Museum. The report highlights the top ten sites, or hotspots, where strandings consistently occur and calls for individuals to monitor key coastal areas to help our understanding of the devastation happening in UK waters.

Strandings have increased from 360 in 1994 to 782 in 2004, a rise of 422 marine animals. The last five years in particular, have shown a dramatic increase in the number of strandings, predominantly due to winter strandings of short-beaked common dolphins and harbour porpoises in south west England.

Cornwall has by far the highest number of reported strandings year on year for England and for the whole of the UK. The Outer Hebrides has the highest number for Scotland, and in Wales, Gwynedd has the most strandings. Specifically the top ten areas that record consistently high numbers of strandings are: Mount’s Bay, Whitsand Bay and Looe, Gerran’s Bay and Veryan Bay in Cornwall; Thurlestone in Devon; Barmouth, Tywyn and Aberdaron in Gwynedd and the Outer Hebrides, Firth of Forth and the coastal area of Aberdeen in Scotland.

Marine strandings occur for a number of reasons, including: sickness, disorientation, natural mortality, extreme weather conditions or injury. Recently bycatch - the accidental capture of animals in fishing nets – has been identified as one of the main causes of death. Strandings can occur throughout the year but there are seasonal changes. The areas where strandings take place are determined by sea currents, local geography, prevailing winds, storms and fisheries activity.

‘Only a small percentage of the total number of dead dolphins and whales are washed up on our shores so the recent dramatic increase in strandings represents a much larger number of deaths,’ commented Richard Sabin, UK Whale & Dolphin Stranding Scheme co-ordinator at the Natural History Museum. ‘The help of individuals in reporting strandings, both on land and at sea, is vital to our research. In identifying key areas of the UK we hope that people will be particularly vigilant in these areas and help the work of the UK Whale & Dolphin Stranding Scheme.’

How you can help
Through a nation-wide network of surveyors, including conservation, animal welfare, professional bodies and other scientific institutes, the UK Whale & Dolphin Stranding Scheme at the Natural History Museum closely monitors the trends in live and dead strandings to increase our understanding and to aid the survival of UK marine mammals.

Anyone finding a stranded dolphin, whale or porpoise should report it immediately.
Live stranded animals should be reported to…

i) in England and Wales the RSPCA 0870 5555999
ii) in Scotland the Scottish SPCA 0131 339 0222

Dead stranded animals should be reported to…
i) in England the Natural History Museum 020 79425155
ii) in Scotland the Scottish Agricultural College 01463 243 030
iii) in Wales Marine Environmental Monitoring 01348 875000

Your report should include:

  • Your name and telephone number
  • An accurate description of where the animal is (if possible, a grid reference)
  • What you think the animal is (whale, dolphin or porpoise - describe its colour and markings)
  • Its condition (is it freshly washed up, or has it started to decompose)
  • The approximate length of the animal

People should take great care when approaching stranded animals and remember that diseases can be transmitted from the dead bodies of marine mammals to humans.

The UK Whale & Dolphin Stranding Scheme is at the centre of a coordinated investigation, funded since 1990 by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, into the biology and ecology of whale, dolphin and porpoise populations around the United Kingdom.

For further information about the UK Whale & Dolphin Strandings Scheme, please visit


Editor notes

All stranding information is collated and entered into the Natural History Museum’s National Strandings database. The Museum works with a variety of national and local wildlife conservation groups, including; the RSPCA; Zoological Society of London; Marine Environmental Monitoring; Brixham Seawatch, The Wildlife Trusts; Sea mammal Research Unit; British Marine Life Study Society; British Divers Marine Life Rescue and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.

For further information please telephone +44 (0)20 7942 5654 or email

Numbers of all cetacean species stranded around the UK 1994 to 2004

Year No of stranded cetaceans
1994 366
1995 265
1996 344
1997 348
1998 369
1999 386
2000 421
2001 549
2002 655
2003 776
2004 782

Issued 9 March 2005