What is a wash ashore?

'Wash ashore' is defined as the circumstances in which marine animals are stranded on the shore, usually on the beach. Stranded animals may be alive or dead, in various states of decomposition. When alive, the animals usually show unusual behaviour due to the stress caused by the stranding.


The 'wash ashore' are frequent throughout the year. In summer they are more related to fishing gears and individuals often appear alive, although under stress. In winter, strandings may be related both to fishing gear and to extreme weather conditions such as storms.


The 'wash ashore' cause a great media impact, but they are not rare phenomena. Since 2000 there is a record of strandings in the area between Pedrógão and São Martinho do Porto, which belongs to the area of influence of the Nazaré captaincy. Since then, 227 strandings of cetaceans of 13 different species have been registered.


Further north, there is the Quiaios Rehabilitation Centre for Marine Animals (CRAM-Q) where there is also a record of 'wash ashore'. Here, records indicate that the common dolphin (Delphinus delphis) is the species that wash ashore the most, followed by the harbour porpoise (Inia geoffrensis), a species of dolphin in critical situation in terms of conservation and, finally, by the baleen whale (genus Balaenoptera). There are also records of wash ashore of striped dolphin and bottlenose dolphin, but in a smaller percentage.

The 'wash ashore' phenomena are not exclusive to cetacean species, other species that also wash ashore on beaches, although less frequently, are turtles. These species frequent our waters only when they are going through their stage of life in the open sea, also known as the pelagic or oceanic state. The vast majority of sea turtles found in Portuguese waters are juveniles that are still far from reaching sexual maturity. The exception is the leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), which spends much of its adult life on the high seas and which, in Portugal, occurs exclusively in the adult state.


The wash ashore of turtles that occur during winter are also related to the extreme weather conditions that occur at that time of the year, as the predominance of south and southwest winds can drag juvenile turtles to Portuguese beaches.


Some of the wash ashore situations may result from interactions with active fishing gear or nets that have been abandoned or lost at sea and are still fishing, and are therefore called ghost nets. These interactions mainly affect juvenile or sub-adult animals. For example, in longlining* (a hook-and-line fishing gear), turtles accidentally get caught on the hooks when trying to feed on bait or on the catch itself and often the hook is still attached to the animal. Gillnets and trammel nets and also the cables of the buckets used to catch octopus can cause entanglement of these species.


Sea turtles that are washed up on shore alive are transported to rehabilitation centres where diagnostic tests for possible pathologies are carried out and then the most appropriate treatment can be started. The recovery process of sea turtles is quite slow, but once recovered, they are returned to the oceans.

Although some of these 'wash ashore' phenomena are difficult to control, there are attitudes and precautions that should be adopted when faced with a belching phenomenon, whether the animal is alive or dead.


1.    Do not touch, do not pick up, do not throw water, do not feed the animal!
They are wild animals and can attack. They are not used to humans and our presence can disturb them.

2.    Do not return the animal to the water!
mammals (cetaceans and pinnipeds), birds and turtles - do not come ashore unless they have a problem.

3.    Observe!
Observe the animal from a distance. Keep people and dogs away.

4.     Describe!
Identify the group: bird, turtle, seal or cetacean.
Check the animal's physical characteristics such as size and colouring. This information will help the team to identify the species and optimise the means necessary for its rescue.

5.    Identify problems!
Check the animal's condition: is it weak or thin? Is it injured? Does it show breathing difficulties?

6.    Locate
Determine the exact location of the animal in order to give correct directions. You cannot rescue an animal if you cannot find it.

7.     Contact the authorities
'Wash ashore' are a good opportunity to collect information on the species such as its distribution patterns and assess incidental catch levels. In turn, this data can also contribute to raising awareness about the need to apply conservation measures for washed ashore species. Thus, when you come across a washed up animal on the beach, in addition to the steps described above, you should contact the competent authorities so that the wash ashore is registered. This contact is also useful so that, in case the animal is dead, it can be removed from the beach. Some useful contacts are:


  • Quiaios Rehabilitation Centre for Marine Animals (CRAM-Q) – 919 618 705 (24 hours 7 days a week)
  • Marine Mammal Support Network (RAMM) – 968 849 101
  • SEPNA – Nature and Environment Protection Service of the GNR – 808 200 520

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