Stranding vs. Strand Feeding

You’ve probably heard both of these terms, typically pertaining to bottlenose dolphins. Do you know the difference? ‘Strand feeding’ is the unique feeding behavior that can be witnessed around Seabrook Island, most often at Cap’n Sams Inlet. This is a feeding strategy where dolphins momentarily “strand” themselves to feed. This is intentional and well-practiced.

A ‘stranding’ or a ‘stranded animal’ is an animal (in this case whales or dolphins) that comes onto land unintentionally. Marine mammals are designed to swim and typically don’t strand without a reason. This could be due to entanglement, injury, illness, or death. Often, these animals are in a compromised state and the tides and currents bring them close to shore. Due to this, we discourage pushing these animals back to the ocean as it prolongs their suffering and the ability for first responders to assess them. It can also be very dangerous to approach and touch a sick and likely stressed animal. These animals need help and there is a trained team in South Carolina who will respond, typically within a couple of hours. To learn more about stranding, click here.

On February 23, 2022, our team was alerted to a carcass that washed up on Seabrook Island. Our team responded the following morning and determined this was a melon-headed whale- only the eighth ever to strand in South Carolina. Due to the state of decomposition, no cause of death could be determined. Depending on the state of the animal or carcass, our team will perform a necropsy (an animal autopsy) to help us learn more. A necropsy can give us insight into a number of things. We are looking for cause of death, human impacts, age, species, diet, reproductive status, genetics, contaminants, microplastics, and more. Although a sad ending, examining these animals can provide a wealth of information about their species and the threats they face, particularly on species not seen very often. 

The South Carolina Marine Mammal Stranding Network is a partnership between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Lowcountry Marine Mammal Network (LMMN) and Coastal Carolina University. This team is on call 7 days a week to assist in responses across coastal South Carolina. Our team is trained to recognize illness and injury and respond appropriately. We often rely on the help of volunteers as well as federal, state and local municipalities to help secure, move or bury animals when needed. 

If you ever come across a distressed or dead marine mammal (on or off the water), please call our 24-hour wildlife hotline at 800-922-5431. Put this in your phone for quick reference! Or call the local beach patrol, DNR, town administer or local police department. For more information, click here.

-Submitted by Lauren Rust, Executive Director, Lowcountry Marine Mammal Network

(Image credit: Lowcountry Marine Mammal Network)