Online Class: Marine Life Rescue 101

This study is designed for people who would like to help marine animals or become involved in marine wildlife rescue efforts.

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  • 12
  • 15
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  • 7
    average time
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Course Description

Guardians of the Shore: Empowerment Through Marine Rescue Knowledge

Imagine you're strolling along the coast, the rhythm of waves crashing beside you, when you suddenly spot a dolphin, wounded and stranded in the shallows. As humanity encroaches upon coastal habitats, such encounters with distressed marine animals are becoming increasingly frequent. While the innate human instinct is to rush to aid these creatures, uninformed interventions might inadvertently exacerbate the situation.

"Marine Life Rescue" is meticulously crafted for those with a profound love for marine life and an eagerness to aid in marine wildlife rescue. While local stranding networks offer specialized training, this course lays the groundwork, giving you a deep dive into the fundamentals of marine animal physiology and preliminary rescue methods.

In any emergency, the golden rule remains: Seek expert assistance. Our curriculum is tailored to ensure you're not just a bystander but an informed and effective first responder.

Dive into this course, and you'll:

  • Spot the Signs: Distinguish between a marine animal enjoying its natural habitat and one in genuine distress.

  • Become the Eyes and Ears: Effectively relay critical information to professional rescue teams, making their intervention swifter and more successful.

  • Delve into the Deep: Understand why marine animals strand and their remarkable adaptability to their oceanic homes.

  • Seasonal Insights: Grasp the patterns of stranding across different seasons and regions.

  • Be the First Responder: Gain knowledge on immediate and appropriate actions when confronted with a stranded marine creature.

  • Connect with the Experts: Equip yourself with the essential contacts for rapid professional assistance.

  • Legal Framework: Navigate the laws and regulations that guide and govern marine animal care.

  • Behind the Scenes: Get a comprehensive view of the procedures and protocols adopted by marine rescue squads.

  • Haven of Healing: Discover the pivotal role of marine rehabilitation centers in nursing injured marine animals back to health.

  • Rehabilitation Realities: Explore the intricate considerations surrounding the care, recovery, and release of rescued marine animals.

  • Oceanic Stewardship: Chart a personal blueprint to minimize your ecological footprint, thus preserving our shared marine ecosystem.

Join us in this course and embark on a transformative journey from casual beachgoer to a well-informed marine life protector. Your understanding and intervention can make a wave of difference!

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Course Motivation


Marine animals live in the open sea. For some marine animals, like seals and sea lions, it is perfectly normal to come ashore. The animals may be tired from a long migration, or they may want to relax in the sun for a short time. In other cases, they might be sick, injured, or disoriented. Marine animals like sea turtles rarely come ashore, and if you see one lingering on land, there is a good chance the animal is ill. Whales and dolphins should never be ashore, seeing one of these animals out of the ocean is a serious emergency and requires immediate action by trained professionals.

Why animals strand

There are many reasons marine animals can end up on the beach, away from their natural environment. The most common issues are environmental or health-related, but there many unexplained strandings.

The forces of the tide are very strong, as you would know if you have ever been pulled out to sea while wading in the ocean. Open ocean animals like dolphins can be caught in the coastal current and pulled into an area where the water is too shallow and it is hard to navigate out to sea. This situation is more pronounced after an intense storm in which high winds and heavy rains churned up the sea and made the water dark and silty, affecting the animals ability to navigate by vision or echolocation (using sound waves to determine position and depth of water). If the animal had to swim through a heavy storm, it would be physically exhausted and a little confused, to boot.

The outgoing tide can take an animal by surprise, suddenly leaving them in too little water to swim properly. During each month's new moon, tides are especially pronounced, and can move faster than normal.

The environment can sometimes make animals sick. Domoic acid, or DA, is an environmental toxin. Algae produce small amounts of DA. During an algae bloom, or "red tide," which can occasionally occur after very rainy weather, water runoff from land flushes too many nutrients (like excess lawn fertilizer) into the ocean. Just like your lawn algae flourishes on the nutrients, and the tiny organisms multiply and grow. The fish that eat algae can have a great feast, but at a cost; DA in the algae builds up in the fishes' blood. When larger animals like seals and sea lions eat sardines and shellfish that have excessive amounts of DA, these higher vertebrates can become sick. The DA poisoning attacks the brain and can cause marine mammals to have seizures, become lethargic, and disoriented. These confused animals can wander ashore, uncertain of how to get back. The DA-poisoned animals are particularly dangerous because of their altered mental states.

Some scientists think that military sonar pinging damages the brains of whales and dolphins. The sound waves are at a specific frequency that can reverberate inside the animal's skull, causing severe damage that makes it difficult for the animal to navigate. 

There is also a theory that marine animals use the Earth's magnetic field as a navigational tool, and when the field suddenly changes, animals get confused and run into shallow water and dead ends. Underwater seismic activity (earthquakes) may also scare animals out of their normal territory, causing them to get lost in new areas.

Sea turtles

Unlike seals, healthy sea turtles rarely come ashore. Turtles are not able to regulate their body temperature as well as mammals. They need to live within a narrow range of temperatures, not too hot and not too cold. These animals can ride the Gulf Stream north from the Caribbean and find themselves in cooler climates in the fall. A sudden cold snap can catch the turtles off guard, leaving them "cold-stunned," unable to hunt, navigate, or return to warmer water. It is almost like being in a coma.

Health, illness, and injury

Marine wildlife sometimes suffers from getting too close to humans. Dolphins, for example, are born to be hunters, but people like to throw food to the animals from boats. The dolphins like the free treats, so over time, they lose a little of their natural fear of humans and start seeking out boats and ships in search of a free meal. Many bad outcomes can happen as a result; dolphins can get too close to engine propellers, causing serious cuts and trauma. Boats can strike a dolphin, whale, or other marine animal, causing serious injury or death. If the vessel is a fishing boat, the animals can be tangled up in fishing nets, or injured by fishhooks. Even though they are not the intended catch, dolphins can end up injured or dead when they get too close to fishermen.

Unfortunately, the occasional human has decided to fire a gun at the animals, causing life threatening injuries.

How to spot a stranded animal

Not all animals on the beach are in distress. It is normal for seals and sea lions to come ashore to rest. Some types of seals can spend several days ashore without any problems. If you approach a healthy animal in an attempt to "save" it, the animal could get so scared that it hurts itself in an effort to get away. For example, if it is poised on top of an outcropping of rocks, and you try to get too close, it could leap without looking and get severely banged up in the process. Healthy wild animals are always better off left alone. If the animal is tired, trying to catch it and return it to the water can just make its exhaustion worse. Unnecessary interaction with humans can cause undue stress or make the animal too comfortable around people, which is not always a good thing.

Signs of a healthy animal

Animals swimming or moving around on the beach, eating, or playing with one another are probably healthy. Even sick animals will try to hide their signs of distress; because as wild animal being the weak one makes you a target for predators. As an observer, you can watch the animal for several minutes and make notes about the animal's behavior in case you do need to call for help.

Signs of distress

  • Excessive thinness. If you can see the animal's ribs, or if he appears to have loose, flappyskin that seems too big for its body, the animal is probably malnourished.
  • Respiratory issues. Just like a person, if an animal is coughing, wheezing, or having difficulty breathing; it is a sign of trouble. An animal with visible mucus draining from its nose or eyes is probably sick.
  • Listlessness. An animal that is lying very still could just be sleeping. It could be exhausted from weathering a rough storm at sea. However, if it has other symptoms like excessive thinness, wheezing, or disorientation, the animal is probably sick.
  • Aggression. Consider how you feel when you are sick. If you are tired, hungry, have a really bad headache, stomach ache, and generally feel poorly, you would not take kindly to strangers coming into your bedroom repeatedly, prodding you, and asking if you are okay. You might snap at the strangers who came to help you. In the same way, wounded animals can be cranky.
  • Poor posture. A seal on its belly propped up on its flippers and looking around is probably fine, but a seal or sea lion flat on its side or its back is probably sick.


  • Completely Online
  • Self-Paced
  • Printable Lessons
  • Full HD Video  
  • 6 Months to Complete
  • 24/7 Availability
  • Start Anytime
  • PC & Mac Compatible
  • Android & iOS Friendly
  • Accredited CEUs
Universal Class is an IACET Accredited Provider

Course Lessons

Lesson 1. Introduction

Marine animals like sea turtles rarely come ashore, and if you see one lingering on land, there's a good chance that the animal is ill. 11 Total Points
  • Lesson 1 Video
  • Lesson discussions: Stranded Animals; Reasons for Taking this Course
  • Complete Assignment: An Introduction
  • Assessment: Lesson 1 Exam

Lesson 2. Biology

All the organisms that live in a saltwater environment like the ocean, estuary, and wetlands are called marine organisms. 10 Total Points
  • Lesson 2 Video
  • Assessment: Lesson 2 Exam

Lesson 3. When Do Animals Strand?

Animals can strand any time of the year, but years of data tracking has shown some definite seasonal trends. 10 Total Points
  • Lesson 3 Video
  • Assessment: Lesson 3 Exam

Lesson 4. Effects on the Animal of Coming Ashore

Marine animals are meant to live in an aquatic environment. For some animals like fish, getting stuck out of the water is a quick death sentence. 10 Total Points
  • Lesson 4 Video
  • Assessment: Lesson 4 Exam

Lesson 5. What to do When you Spot a Stranded Animal

Finding a stranded marine animal is similar to finding a human in distress. Additional lesson topics: Stranded Marine Animals 20 Total Points
  • Lesson 5 Video
  • Complete: Lesson 5 Assignment
  • Assessment: Lesson 5 Exam

Lesson 6. Stranding Networks

When Congress passed the Marine Mammal Protection Act and Endangered Species Act in the 1970s, it put in place serious legal implications for people who tried to assist stranded animals. 10 Total Points
  • Lesson 6 Video
  • Lesson discussions: Stranding Networks
  • Assessment: Lesson 6 Exam

Lesson 7. Basic Rescue: Birds

If the bird looks disoriented, confused, or seems to be limping, it is probably best to leave it alone. 10 Total Points
  • Lesson 7 Video
  • Assessment: Lesson 7 Exam

Lesson 8. Basic Rescue: Mammals

When you encounter a stranded marine animal, it is important to carefully consider any action you might take and then notify the local stranding network before taking action. 10 Total Points
  • Lesson 8 Video
  • Assessment: Lesson 8 Exam

Lesson 9. Deceased Animal: First Responders

Scientists today will often examine dead animals on the shore to determine the cause of death, age of the animal, and collect tissue samples to further our understanding of the species. 7 Total Points
  • Lesson 9 Video
  • Assessment: Lesson 9 Exam

Lesson 10. Rehabilitation Process

When rescuers find an animal that is too sick to return to the wild but not quite at death's door, one option is to send that animal to a marine animal rehabilitation center. 10 Total Points
  • Lesson 10 Video
  • Lesson discussions: Rehabilitation
  • Assessment: Lesson 10 Exam

Lesson 11. Release Criteria

There is no set holding time for an animal but before the rehab center can release it, it must be free from communicable disease and able to forage for its own food. 9 Total Points
  • Lesson 11 Video
  • Assessment: Lesson 11 Exam

Lesson 12. Prevention

At the national level, several governments around the world have enacted their own regulations to help save marine mammals. 42 Total Points
  • Lesson 12 Video
  • Lesson discussions: What is your opinion of this course?; Program Evaluation Follow-up Survey (End of Course); Course Comments
  • Assessment: Lesson 12 Exam
  • Assessment: The Final Exam
Total Course Points

Learning Outcomes

By successfully completing this course, students will be able to:
  • Describe biology needed for marine life rescue.
  • Identify when do animals strand.
  • Summarize the effects on the animal of coming ashore.
  • Describe what to do when you spot a stranded animal.
  • Summarize what a basic rescue entails.
  • Describe what to do when there's a deceased animal.
  • Describe rehabilitation process.
  • Describe release criteria.
  • Demonstrate mastery of lesson content at levels of 70% or higher.

Additional Course Information

Online CEU Certificate
  • Document Your Lifelong Learning Achievements
  • Earn an Official Certificate Documenting Course Hours and CEUs
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Document Your CEUs on Your Resume
Course Title: Marine Life Rescue 101
Course Number: 8900139
Languages: English - United States, Canada and other English speaking countries
Availability: This course is online and available in all 50 states including: California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas, and Washington.
Last Updated: October 2023
Course Type: Self-Paced, Online Class
CEU Value: 0.7 IACET CEUs (Continuing Education Units)
CE Accreditation: Universal Class, Inc. has been accredited as an Authorized Provider by the International Association for Continuing Education and Training (IACET).
Grading Policy: Earn a final grade of 70% or higher to receive an online/downloadable CEU Certification documenting CEUs earned.
Assessment Method: Lesson assignments and review exams
Course Fee: $120.00 U.S. dollars

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