The Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme

For centuries, whales, dolphins, porpoises and seals have regularly stranded around the coasts of the UK. The underlying causes of these stranding events are not always clear and the role that human activity may play in either directly or indirectly causing single or mass strandings remains controversial.

The Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme (SMASS) has been in operation in Scotland since 1992. The project aims to provide a systematic and coordinated approach to the surveillance of Scotland’s marine species by collating, analysing and reporting data of all whales, dolphins and porpoises (collectively known as cetaceans), seals, marine turtles and basking sharks that strand on the Scottish coastline. We work closely together with our colleagues at the Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP), who are responsible for stranding surveillance in England and Wales.

Investigation of stranded marine animals can yield substantial information on the health and ecology of these fascinating but often little understood species, while also helping to highlight some of the conservation issues they may face. The long term accumulation of stranding data facilitates the investigation of spatio-temporal trends and patterns in stranding numbers and mortality. Post-mortem examinations additionally provide unique insight into wider metrics such as age structure, sex, body condition, cause of death, pollutant levels, reproductive patterns, diet, disease burden and pathology of the stranded population. This information can provide essential baseline data to help detect any future outbreaks of disease, unusual mortality events, anthropogenic stressors, and other health issues. It also enables assessment of pressures and threats, possible population dynamics, and responses to environmental stressors as well as specific conservation measures.

The data collected by the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme is available to collaborators from all over the world, and our archive contains a unique collection of samples and information from over two decades of continuous research. If you would like more details, or are interested in collaborating, please get in touch via [email protected]