26 September 2023

Water warning to beware marine mammals

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South Australians are being warned not to touch stranded marine mammals including whales, dolphins, seals and sea lions and instead call the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) for advice.

According to the NPWS when we see a live stranded marine mammal our first instinct might be to rush to the animal and immediately put it back into the water.

“However, this may not be in the best interest of the animal, or the person trying to help,” the Service said.

“Marine mammals can carry infectious diseases that can pass between themselves, humans, and their pets,” it said.

“These are called zoonotic diseases which include tuberculosis, Brucella, toxoplasmosis and q-fever.”

It said the diseases could spread to humans and pets by direct contact with the marine mammal or its bodily fluids – and it can even disperse through the air when the animal breathes.

Senior Ranger at NPWS, Nikki Zanardo said six live and 44 dead marine mammals had been reported stranded along South Australia’s coastline in the past 12 months.

“We are currently in a very busy stranding period so given this we are likely to get a few more come ashore in the near future,’’ Ms Zanardo said.

“And if someone comes into contact with a sick or infected marine mammal, there could potentially be serious health consequences for that person.’’

Ms Zanardo said this was why it was essential to wear protective clothing when near marine mammals – whether dead or alive. Protective clothing includes gloves, face masks, eye and skin protection.

“As zoonotic diseases could pass to your pets too, it’s best to keep your dogs on lead at a safe distance,’’ she said.

“If you find a stranded marine mammal, please call your local National Parks and Wildlife Service office or marine wildlife rescue organisation.”

She said the NPWS can provide advice over the phone, send experienced personnel with equipment to assist with the incident, or both.

“These animals come ashore as they are tired and need to rest after spending many hours out at sea foraging for food,” Ms Zanardo said.

“If you see them on a beach, please respect them and keep a safe distance,” she said.

More information about marine mammal stranding can be accessed on the Department of Environment website at this 2-page PS News link.

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