(October 12, 2015) --

Following the stranding of a melon headed whale in Gulf Shores, Alabama, last Tuesday (6 October 2015), researchers at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab's Alabama Marine Mammal Stranding Network (ALMMSN) performed a necropsy to help determine what caused the animal to strand. While final results are still pending, researchers found the small whale had a severe respiratory infection that likely affected the animal's ability to breathe.

The melon headed whale, a type of dolphin that is normally found in deeper waters, stranded alive near the Surfside Shores condos in Gulf Shores. The dolphin was struggling to breathe and stay upright in the surf. ALMMSN biologists were aided by bystanders who stayed with the animal until responders arrived on scene. “Because these animals are very sick when they come ashore to strand, it is imperative that people do not attempt to push them back out to sea,” said ALMMSN Stranding Coordinator Noel Wingers. “In this case, the good Samaritans on scene did everything right to help keep this animal as comfortable as possible, and we are very grateful for their dedication and hard work.”

The ALMMSN team and bystanders stabilized the dolphin until a veterinary team from the Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge arrived to assess its health. Given the animal's ailing condition, the decision was made in conjunction with NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service officials to euthanize the dolphin on scene. “In cases like this one, when animals are very sick, often the best course of action is to keep the animal as comfortable as possible and provide a humane death through sedation and euthanasia,” said Ms. Wingers.

Three additional melon-headed whales have stranded along the east coast of Florida during the past month, and two pygmy killer whales stranded in Mississippi in September. NOAA and cooperative southeast regional marine mammal stranding networks are closely monitoring this situation. If you see a stranded marine mammal, please call 1-877-WHALE-HELP immediately and never attempt to push an animal back out to sea.