Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network

Dedicated to the conservation of marine mammals through rescue and rehabilitation, research and education.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the TMMSN?
The TMMSN is a volunteer-based non-profit organization founded in 1980. The organization responds to marine mammal strandings along the entire Texas coast.

What kind of things does the Network do?
Rescue Live stranded marine mammals from anywhere along the Texas and Western Louisiana coast, rehabilitate them, and release them when possible. When release is not an option we find homes at marine facilities around the country.

Are you funded by Texas A&M?
We are not funded by Texas A&M, or any other university. The TMMSN was originally started by researchers in 1980 who worked for Texas A&M at Galveston, but the TMMSN is and always has been a separate non-profit organization, reliant on grants and donations from volunteers and foundations. We receive no funding from Texas A&M, but we do cooperate with Texas A&M researchers to further the body of scientific knowledge.  The TMMSN works with volunteers and researchers from all over the globe.

Do you receive funding from the State of Texas?
We are not funded by the State of Texas, Texas Parks and Wildlife, or any other state agency. However, we do cooperate with state university and agencies for research, investigations, and conservation.

What is involved in rehabilitating an animal?
Once the animal is recovered from the beach, it is placed in a rehab pool. Blood is drawn and the animal is weighed. Most of the time these animals are very weak after stranding and unable to swim on their own. Volunteers are needed in the pool to support the animal 24 hours a day until the animal is able to swim on its own. The Critical Care Team, a group of volunteers with advanced training, are on shift with the animal for the first 72 hours. Volunteers monitor respiration rate, heart rate, and behaviors, logging all events for inspection by TMMSN staff and vets. Fluids, vitamins, and medications are provided with food.

What happens to the animals that wash up on the beach dead?
The Network responds to all reports of stranded animals. All animals are assessed on the beach and assigned a Code condition. Code 1 is alive at the time of stranding, Codes 2-5 are dead, with a Code 5 being the most decomposed. A Code 2 animal is considered extremely fresh and is usually rushed back to the lab for a necropsy (an animal autopsy). Much valuable information can be obtained from a Code 2 animal. However, all animals provide some information that can be used to help us understand why they strand.

What kinds of animals usually strand along the Texas Coast?
Most abundantly are Tursiops truncatus, commonly known as the bottlenose dolphin. We have also responded to strandings of many of the Gulf of Mexico species.

Do you accept volunteers?
The Network depends on volunteers from all parts of the community, not just those studying marine life. You don't have to have any experience with marine mammals in order to help. We offer a full training day to prepare individuals to volunteer with TMMSN. The training day involves a lecture component in the morning and in-water training in the afternoon. An individual must be 18 years of age to work with live animals due to liability concerns. However, people under the age of 18 can become involved with the Network through the Education Program.

Can we come and visit the animals in rehab?
The answer to this question will vary depending upon the animal that is in rehabilitation. If someone wants to visit they will need to contact the State Coordinator and schedule a visit.

Why do the animals strand?
Illness (bacterial and viral infections), weather conditions, interaction with fishing nets or other fisheries interactions, toxins in the water, newborns and juveniles separated from their mothers, gunshot wounds, disorientation due to interference with their echolocation, hurricane impacts, just to name a few.

How many animals strand each year?
Approximately 130-150.

How do you know how old an animal is?
For live animals, age is based on size (length and weight) and the condition of the teeth. For dead animals, age can be determined by counting the rings on a cross section of the teeth. This is similar to the rings on the trunk of a tree.

What's the difference between a dolphin and a porpoise?
Porpoises are not found naturally in the Gulf of Mexico. Dolphins have conically shaped teeth and porpoises have spade or wedge shaped teeth. Most dolphins have an elongated rostrum, while porpoises have a blunt snout. The dorsal fin of a dolphin is truncated or curved where the dorsal fin of a porpoise is triangular.

Why is a dolphin not a fish?
A dolphin is a mammal. It shares certain characteristics with other members of the Class Mammalia (such as humans) including mammary glands to nurse their young, breathing air with lungs, giving birth to live young, and being warm-blooded. On the other hand, fish do not nurse their young, their offspring develop inside of eggs, fish absorb oxygen from the water through gills, and are cold-blooded.

What is a marine mammal?
A marine mammal is an animal in the Class Mammalia that lives in or around the ocean and derives most or all of its food from the ocean. They share characteristics classic of land mammals but have special adaptations for life in the water such as streamlined bodies, tail flukes for locomotion, fins for balance and steering, blubber for insulation, etc.

What is baleen?
Plates of baleen are suspended from each side of the upper jaw in baleen or toothless whales. The plates are made of keratin (the same thing hair is made of) that intertwines to form a sieve, which filters food from the water. The baleen whale takes in a huge gulp of water, closes its mouth, and forces the water out through the baleen trapping food particles such as fish, plankton, krill, and other crustaceans. Other baleen whales slide along the bottom stirring up food material and then trapping it in the baleen.

What other animals are considered marine mammals?
There are 5 different groups of marine mammals including: Cetaceans (whales and dolphins) - 78 species Sirenians (manatees and dugongs) - 4 species Pinnipeds (seals, sea lions, walruses) - 34 species Maine and sea otters - 2 species Polar bears - 1 species

Who do I contact to have someone give a lecture at my school?
Contact the State Coordinator, check the "Contact" page of our website for contact information.

What should I do if I find an animal stranded on the beach?
Click here to visit our Dolphin 911 page for information on what to do.

Are there any laws that protect marine mammals?
Yes! The Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 protects these animals from harassment by humans. It is even against the law to feed or touch wild dolphins. The intentional killing of marine mammals in the course of fishing operations is prohibited by law. Shooting of a marine mammal could result in a fine of $20,000 or a year in jail.

Is it safe to swim with wild dolphins?
No, it is not safe for you or the animals! Dolphins in the wild do bite. Excessive human contact causes wild dolphins to lose some of their natural wariness needed for survival in the wild. Please, observe them from a distance and never attempt to feed them or swim with them.