Mortality trends of stranded marine mammals on Cape Cod and southeastern Massachusetts, USA, 2000 to 2006

Dis Aquat Organ. 2010 Jan 25;88(2):143-55. doi: 10.3354/dao02146.


To understand the cause of death of 405 marine mammals stranded on Cape Cod and southeastern Massachusetts between 2000 and 2006, a system for coding final diagnosis was developed and categorized as (1) disease, (2) human interaction, (3) mass-stranded with no significant findings, (4) single-stranded with no significant findings, (5) rock and/or sand ingestion, (6) predatory attack, (7) failure to thrive or dependent calf or pup, or (8) other. The cause of death for 91 animals could not be determined. For the 314 animals that could be assigned a cause of death, gross and histological pathology results and ancillary testing indicated that disease was the leading cause of mortality in the region, affecting 116/314 (37%) of cases. Human interaction, including harassment, entanglement, and vessel collision, fatally affected 31/314 (10%) of all animals. Human interaction accounted for 13/29 (45%) of all determined gray seal Halichoerus grypus mortalities. Mass strandings were most likely to occur in northeastern Cape Cod Bay; 97/106 (92%) of mass stranded animals necropsied presented with no significant pathological findings. Mass strandings were the leading cause of death in 3 of the 4 small cetacean species: 46/67 (69%) of Atlantic white-sided dolphin Lagenorhynchus acutus, 15/21 (71%) of long-finned pilot whale Globicephala melas, and 33/54 (61%) of short-beaked common dolphin Delphinus delphis. These baseline data are critical for understanding marine mammal population health and mortality trends, which in turn have significant conservation and management implications. They not only afford a better retrospective analysis of strandings, but ultimately have application for improving current and future response to live animal stranding.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacterial Infections / mortality
  • Bacterial Infections / veterinary*
  • Caniformia*
  • Central Nervous System Diseases / mortality
  • Central Nervous System Diseases / veterinary*
  • Dolphins*
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Human Activities
  • Humans
  • Massachusetts
  • Parasitic Diseases, Animal / mortality*
  • Time Factors
  • Whales*