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 shifts in prey, the effects of 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 causes of death, as well as to bank tissues for a multitude of collaborative studies with outside researchers, for example:

  •  Coastal Raptors and U.S. Geologic Survey - documenting lead and organochlorine (OC) contaminants concentrations in marine mammal carcasses and the avian scavenger community feeding in the marine environment
  •  National Institutes of Health - investigating the geographic range of protozoal parasites (coccidians) in marine mammals along the western seaboard
  •  California State University - Channel Islands – studying respiratory ontongeny in mysticete neonates
  • University of New Mexico – using stable isotope analysis to study the foraging ecology of baleen whales
  • Baylor University – determining harbor porpoise age through flipper bone mineral density
  • Texas A&M University - study of cetacean reproductive tract morphology
  • University of California, Los Angeles – epidemiology of leptospirosis in California sea lions
  • Florida Institute of Technology -  analysis for biotoxin exposure
  • Oceans Initiative - Pacific white sided dolphin pathology
  •  University of California, San Francisco - to generate induced pluripotent stem cells for modeling cetacean development
  • Upwell and NOAA West Coast Region – sea turtle stranding response and pathology
  • OSU GEMM Lab and Northern Arizona University - hormone analysis of mysticete baleen and feces


  • 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.