Mammals have lungs, so do marine mammals. Nevertheless some marine mammals seem to die rather quickly when they strand on a beach.

As they have lungs and can breath while on land, why do they die so quickly? Not being in water only restricts them from food.

Do they maybe try to get back into the water so rudely that they get hurt by rocks and/or break bones? Pressure difference doesn't seem to be a problem as they can jump out of the water as well.

I was wondering after reading this article on stranded pilot whales that got spot but died rather quickly after.

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    $\begingroup$ I'd assume that old, sick, or otherwise weakened animals have a much higher chance of getting stranded at all, which adds to a quick demise. $\endgroup$ Commented May 29, 2015 at 20:15

2 Answers 2


In the case of whales, I always thought that it was something to do with the fact that they rely upon buoyancy to support their weight and this seems to support that view:

When whales, including small whales or dolphins become stranded on beaches they suffer from the pressure of their own weight on their organs,in the water they are weightless. They also suffer from overheating as they have blubber that insulates them in the water and outside of the water causing them to overheat. This is why we place wet towels and cold water on their fins and flukes when do they strand to help keep their body temperature down. Unfortunately most stranded whales do not survive once they have beached themselves.


That's not exactly true, you are generalizing. For example seals are marine mammals (that's a rather large non-official group I think) and they don't die so quickly.

Anyway, breathing is not the only thing necessary for survival. If you leave a human inside a 50°C room he can still breath but won't live for long.

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    $\begingroup$ I said "Nevertheless some marine mammals seem to die rather quickly when they strand on a beach.". So I was not generalizing on species. It's true that breathing is not the only thing necessary for survival, otherwise they wouldn't die, my question aimed to find out what was the other crucial thing for survival on such short time frames. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 2, 2012 at 19:24
  • $\begingroup$ @StevenRoose That would depend between animal. I believe most of them require their skin to be moist or they get sunburns. $\endgroup$
    – carandraug
    Commented Sep 2, 2012 at 19:33

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