Most citizens volunteered in hopes of rescuing stranded whales from the beach. In reality, relatively few marine mammals stranded alive, and most that did ended up dying on the beach. In 1999 approximately 1,500 marine mammals-including whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals, sea lions, and manatees-beached on US shorelines. All but two hundred of them had already died at sea, mostly from disease or old age. Of the two hundred that live-stranded, some were euthanized by Fisheries officials. Most of the others soon died of exposure to the elements, or suffocated when their bodies collapsed under their own weight, or drowned when the high tide washed over their blowholes. Only five marine mammals that stranded live that year were actually rescued from the beach and returned to the ocean.
In the case of most strandings, Fisheries's primary job was to safely dispose of the bodies. A dead whale was an ideal environment for anaerobic microorganisms and can quickly become a biohazard. Beyond containing the immediate health risks associated with active bacteria, Fisheries faced the engineering task of removing gigantic carcasses from the beach. It costs tens of thousands of dollars in manpower and heavy equipment to dismember, remove, and dispose of a single large whale.