For centuries, whales, dolphins, porpoises and seals have regularly stranded around the coasts of the UK. The underlying causes of these stranding events are not always clear, and debate around the role that human activity may play either directly or indirectly remains controversial.

Scottish government logoThe Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme (SMASS) has been in operation since 1992. It is part of the Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP), and is funded by the Scottish and UK governments.

The project aims to provide a systematic and coordinated approach to the surveillance of Scotland’s marine species. It collates, analyses and reports data of all whales, dolphins and porpoises (collectively known as cetaceans), seals, marine turtles, and basking sharks that strand on the Scottish coastline.

Investigation of stranded marine animals can yield substantial information on the health and ecology of these fascinating but little understood species, while also helping to highlight some of the conservation issues they may face. Post-mortem examinations provide unique insight into metrics such as age structure, sex, body condition, cause of death, pollutant levels, diet, disease burden and other aspects of the general health of marine mammal populations in the seas around our coasts.

Scotland’s coastline is a staggering 18,840 km long and includes 790 islands; an enormous area to cover for the SMASS team alone! We have a great network of trained volunteers that help us with the identification, recovery, storage and transport of stranded animals throughout Scotland. There are currently over a hundred active SMASS volunteers, and our network is still expanding. Anyone living in a coastal area with an interest in marine animals can become a SMASS stranding volunteer by attending a strandings volunteer training course.

If you find a dead, stranded marine animal please call 01463 243030 or 07979 245893. Rescue for live strandings can be called 24 hours a day through: Scottish SPCA Animal Helpline 03000 999 999 or British Divers Marine Life Rescue 01825 765546.

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