Whales and dolphins more at risk of disturbance around UK coasts – charity

Whales, dolphins and porpoises around Britain’s coast are increasingly at risk of being disturbed by people in boats, jet skis and paddleboards, wildlife experts warn.

Conservationists say laws and reporting processes designed to protect marine mammals from disturbance are failing to protect wildlife and need urgent reform.

While holidaymakers flock to the coast during the Easter holidays, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) charity says the increasing number of people using the sea for leisure activities increases the risk of harm to marine animals.

It is illegal to disturb whales and dolphins, which can be chased away from important feeding and breeding sites, or even be physically injured or killed by human activities.

The British seas are a special place for dolphins and whales, with over 20 species, more than anywhere in Northern Europe

Katie Dyke, WDC

WDC’s Katie Dyke said: “Our main goal is to stop disruption before it happens by raising awareness of the issues.

“The British seas are a special place for dolphins and whales, with more than 20 species, more than anywhere else in Northern Europe.

“They are also a fast-growing destination for maritime recreation and tourism, increasing disruptions.”

She said this can happen when people get too close to marine animals, disrupting their natural behavior and causing stress.

Martin Sims, former head of the UK’s National Wildlife Crime Unit, said: “Marine mammals are sensitive to disturbance, especially when they have young, rest, eat or socialize.

It is important to give space to sea creatures – watch them from a good distance, don’t push them too much and don’t stay too long

Martin Sims

“Disruption by some members of the public using recreational boats, jet skis, kayaks and paddleboards can scare and drive them away from key habitats, in extreme cases injuring or killing them.

“It’s important to give sea creatures space – watch them from a good distance, don’t put them too close together and don’t stay too long.”

Many boat users and beachgoers don’t know the rules and don’t know how to report incidents they witness, the WDC says.

And despite guidelines to help people understand how to behave around marine mammals, it’s hard to take action if they’re broken.

That’s because the bar for evidence is set too high to pinpoint disturbances to allow police to demand prosecution, as a very clear change in the animal’s behavior is needed – and most whale and dolphin activity is underwater.

A change in the law is needed to ensure that where a dolphin expert determines that disturbance has occurred – such as a ship breaking up a family group of young calves or a rogue wildlife tourism operator repeatedly driving too close to a group – it can be prosecuted, urges WDC. .

The charity also says that potential crimes are not recorded in a way that means data can be collected and analyzed and that a lack of specific details that police dispatchers must take when a report comes in makes it difficult to track down incidents.

Police forces in the UK have increased their focus and efforts to deal with the disturbance of dolphins and other creatures, but awareness and the ability to tackle crime in the sea must be maintained and improved, the WDC said.

The charity wants all wildlife crime, including incidents involving marine mammals, to be registered as “notifiable” violations by the Department of the Interior so that data on the number of cases can be properly analyzed and the problem addressed.

The charity also calls for revision and updating of legislation used to prosecute wildlife crimes, training for police dispatchers and prosecutors on marine wildlife cases, and for an increase in the number of qualified police investigators investigating is doing.

A report from Cornwall Marine and Coastal Code Group (CMCCG) showed that incidents in the region – where they are better recorded thanks to a dedicated volunteer effort and a hotline number – had tripled to 371 between 2014-2021.

Privately owned pleasure craft are cited as the greatest threat to whales and dolphins, while hikers, shore users and paddle sports have been the greatest source of disturbance to seals, seabirds and cetaceans as a whole.

Fast-growing sports such as paddle boarding and canoeing pose a particular risk, as they can access and disturb marine wildlife sites with little noise.

A UK government spokesman said: “Whales and dolphins are already protected by law from intentional or reckless disturbance.

“We are also developing a Marine and Coastal Wildlife Code to guide the public to minimize the risk of damage to our precious marine animals from disturbance.”

The Marine Management Organization is working with the police, RSPCA and other organizations to address the increase in marine disturbance by providing guidelines to prevent cases and to prosecute where necessary with the support of local police forces, the spokesman said.

– All suspected incidents of disturbance should be reported to the police on 101, telling the operator it is a wildlife crime and providing as much information as possible including date, time, location, duration of the incident, any identifying features of the vessel and people, the species involved and their behaviour.

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