Why study stranded animals?

  • Stranded animals offer a unique opportunity to study otherwise inaccessible wildlife
  • Diseases in marine mammals may reflect environmental changes such as ocean pollution, shifts in prey, biotoxins and emerging pathogens

Fresh dead animals provide us with a wealth of information about the diseases that affect the populations of animals living off the Oregon coast. Whenever possible, we perform necropsies to determine an animal's cause of death and collect tissues for ongoing studies.

For example:

  • Kidney tissue is collected for development of a PCR test for Leptospira (the organism responsible for leptospirosis, a contagious kidney infection) at OSU's College of Veterinary Medicine.
  • Ears (and sometimes intact heads) from deep diving cetaceans are collected for studies of functional anatomy, pathology and forensics of hearing systems.
  • Skeletal remains are collected for studies of morphology and for displays in museums.
  • Blubber, liver, and kidney tissues are banked for prospective studies of persistent contaminant loads.
  • Stomach contents are saved for studies of foraging habits.
  • Skin samples are collected from cetaceans for genetic analysis.


  • Teaches us about the basic physiology and biology of animals that are not accessible by any other means.
  • Provides data on the incidence of human interactions including ship strikes, gunshot, entanglements and marine debris ingestions.

These data help NMFS to make better management decisions about stocks of marine mammals.

Ultimately, necropsies of marine mammals can help us to better understand the state of the marine environment.