Why are response networks important?

The regional networks are fundamental to ensuring timely, scientific, and responsible action on marine animal emergencies and incidents. Fisheries and Oceans Canada is the federal agency responsible for the conservation and protection of Canada’s marine animals, but the need for response exceeds the existing government resources and policy. The regional networks fill these gaps and in many regions, they have become the experts and lead responders in determining courses of action during these events.

Team rescuing stranded whale


Live animals in distress may require hands-on, timely and coordinated response by highly trained and authorized responders. The type of rescue will depend on the nature of the emergency. Animals may be entangled in ropes or other materials, they may become trapped in an area (due to the shapes of coastlines, human structures or even ice), and they can become stranded onshore alive. Rescue in each of these emergencies may involve direct contact with the animal in an attempt to free it from distress. The response may involve disentangling animals or re-floating animals from shorelines. In some cases, the animal may require rehabilitation in a medical facility before being re-released, however, currently only one facility in Canada currently offers this support. In almost all situations, public education and crowd control is also a part of rescue attempts.

Visitors to whale park


Communicating with the public is an element that occurs in all marine animal emergencies and it is a crucial role emergency response community’s must take on. In every marine animal emergency, there is an opportunity to engage and educate Canadians about marine animals, types of emergencies and the efforts of the regional emergency response teams. Trained responders provide on-scene advice and education to bystanders as a form of experiential learning. The hotline and coordination centers offer valuable advice to callers by guiding them through the reporting process and the initial on-site response, and by responding to their calls to maintain volunteer engagement. Formal training workshops and information sessions hosted by the regional networks offer structured learning opportunities and certification for volunteers. Incidents and updates are shared regularly through social media, engaging the broader community, and fostering a sense of marine stewardship and inspiring Canadians to participate in ocean conservation efforts.

Beluga whale necropsy


Whether an animal is alive or dead, all incidents involving marine animals provide opportunities to gain knowledge about the animals and about the cause of its situation. This knowledge can improve safety for humans as well as animals and it may help reduce threats in the future. In situations where an animal is dead, responders may collect biological samples and measurements and examine the carcass for evidence of human activities. A detailed necropsy (a dissection of a dead animal) may also be conducted to provide further knowledge (e.g. cause of death, presence of injury or disease). In some cases, a live animal may arrive somewhere that is unusual, such as a dolphin in a river (these are referred to as vagrant animals). Responders may monitor the location and behavior of the animal, but often do not intervene.

Why are responses important?

School of whales swimming

For marine animals

Responding to marine animal incidents increases the likelihood of survival of distressed animals and can improve conservation of all marine species by providing better knowledge of the threats faced by marine animals. In the case where the species is listed under the Species at Risk Act (SARA), the government is required by law to act to prevent their extinction and so responding to marine animal incidents may also be obligatory.

Child wearing whale costume

For Canadians

The Canadian public has a desire to see a response to distressed and even dead marine animals. Our marine animals are important parts of Canadian marine heritage, representing both the health and prosperity of the oceans as well as the countless livelihoods that are dependent on these animals.

Whale jumping out of water

For our oceans

Responding to marine animal incidents allows us to track changes in wildlife and in our oceans. Without this attention, natural or human-caused events can harm our oceans and our wildlife, disease can outbreak and further stress wildlife populations, harmful algal blooms can kill animals or alter their behaviors, and animals may be harmed due to a variety of human activities (fishing, shipping, seismic exploration and more). Unless we make the effort to respond and investigate marine animal incidents, these issues would go unknown. Responding to marine animals in distress is a responsible action as we are users of our oceans and marine wildlife.

Marine Animal Emergencies

Accidents with wildlife will happen. With proper precautions, we can help to avoid these incidents and be ready to take responsible action when they do happen.

Keep in mind these are living organisms that are a part of our world heritage. For most marine animal populations, each and every individual plays a key part in the future survival of the species.

Reporting any encounters with marine mammals is crucial to help scientists track, manage and conserve their habitat and populations.


Sightings Network in BC

If you see a whale, dolphin, porpoise, or sea turtle in BC and it is NOT an emergency (i.e., the animal is alive, free-swimming, and healthy) please contact the BC Sightings Network:

To learn more about federal regulations for coming into close proximity and interactions with marine mammals: