Due to the lack of direct research on many marine animal species, investigating incidents involving dead animals offer one of the best means possible to collect a wide range of data. Of particular importance is data regarding incidence of threats (e.g. vessel strikes, marine debris, entanglements) and the cause of death; however, there is also interest in life history characteristics (e.g. age at maturity, sex, pregnancy rates), ecological parameters (e.g. predator-prey relationships), marine animal health and other conservation issues (e.g. pollutant contamination). This information has been identified as priority activities in most Species at Risk recovery strategies, action plans and management plans. Dead animals are also valuable for museum archives and displays.

The course of action and what can be done to document and examine the animals can depend on many factors including species, location, carcass condition and available resources and funding.

Such data collection is important as it offers a means to monitor the effectiveness of current conservation measures as well as to determine the need for new measures. As such, it is important experts and highly trained personnel document any potential human-caused injuries as quickly as possible (e.g. entangling fishing gear, sign of vessel strike) as evidence is often removed once the carcass comes ashore or may only be evident upon internal examination. In addition, decomposition will often obscure signs of human interactions.

To report stranded, injured, entangled or dead marine animal in the Canadian Maritime Provinces call:

Safety is our primary concern. Decisions made by MARS are in the interest of the human safety and animal welfare.

There are a number of potential hazards that are faced by dead animals on beaches, as well as collecting data and samples from these animals. Great care should be taken around dead animals! Please keep other people and pets away from the carcass.


Once an animal is discovered, it is critical that it is reported to MARS as soon as possible in order for experts to examine the carcass and determine what to do. To successfully respond to a dead or distressed stranded animal, it is critical that the incident response be timely and done in an appropriate manner according to protocol. As the conditions of each incident is variable, experienced responders will ensure human safety and ensure the collection of valuable data.

When you report the animal(s), it is important to provide the following information:

1. Date and Time

2. Caller name and contact number

3. Location:

  1. Onshore or offshore?
  2. Position (Lat/Long)
  3. Name of beach or area
  4. Nearest town/city
  5. Topography
  6. Location on beach
  7. Access point to beach
  8. How close can you drive to stranded animal?
  9. Directions

4. Description of the animal(s):

  1. Species
  2. Number of animals
  3. Description of cetacean (length, sex, colour pattern, head, back, fin, tail, flippers)
  4. Were photographs taken?

5) Conditions at the scene:

  1. Weather
  2. Sea state
  3. Tide state
  4. Is there a crowd around the animal?
  5. Are people trying to move it?

6) Condition of the dead animal:

  1. Freshly dead, moderately decomposed, severely decomposed
  2. Animal was found alive or dead


The importance of high quality photo and video documentation cannot be overstated! These visual materials aid in the identification of species, confirmation of sex and age, documentation of general health or malnourishment and presence of external injuries or human interaction.

Whenever possible, a full photo sweep of the animal(s) should always be done. A full sweep means taking photographs from different angles while walking around the animal and includes photographs of the following:

  • Full length shot of body showing its entire profile
  • Animals face (ie. head shot / eyes / mouth)
  • Pectoral fins / flippers
  • Dorsal fin
  • Tail / fluke
  • Distinctive markings
  • Wounds
  • Any signs of human interaction (e.g. rope or marine debris)


In order to examine trends over time, particularly related to species occurrence, general health and incidence of human interaction and disease, it is important that all carcasses are examined. When possible, veterinarians or expert responders conduct these investigations, however, when that’s not possible, every attempt is made to at least collect basic data and samples from all animals. This basic data and sample collection can be done by MARS volunteers and response support organizations under the supervision of experts and highly trained personnel.

Depending on the species, carcass condition, environmental conditions, resources, funding and logistics, it may be desired that a more detailed examination or necropsy be conducted by experts. If that is the case, care should be taken to not disturb the carcass, destroy wounds or remove gear or debris (unless instructed to do so by an expert). As soon as the carcass is secured, a thorough examination of the external surface of the animal is done (including a full photo sweep). This is done by an expert or highly trained personnel as many signs of diseases, illness and human interactions are not externally obvious.


A necropsy is a surgical examination of a dead animal. This procedure is used to collect valuable internal samples and attempt to determine why the animal died. As many indicators of death are not observable from an external examination, a necropsy may be performed to determine the cause of death with a degree of certainty. As some indicators of cause of death can disappear with decomposition, it is imperative that carcasses are examined as soon as possible, although even a very decomposed carcass can still yield valuable information and suggestions of cause of death.

MARS works directly with partners including pathologists from the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative and Fisheries and Ocean Canada to carry out necropsies on large marine animals. In order to complete such a monumental task, many hands are required for a variety of different tasks and volunteers are an essential component of necropsies.

MARS is committed to providing opportunities for volunteers to participate in necropsies but based on the often complex and technical nature of the work, participation at a necropsy event will be limited to volunteers with specific training and experience.