Baby dolphin dies from boat strike

Marine Conservation Officers from Cornwall Wildlife Trust are devasted by the recent death of a baby dolphin near Gunwalloe on the Lizard peninsula, which was revealed yesterday to be caused by probable boat strike. This follows a spate of disturbance incidents of dolphins by power boats, jet skis and stand up paddleboards over the summer months. The Trust are calling on all water users to consider their actions and behaviour at sea to protect our incredible marine life, and to prevent such a devastating incident happening again.

On the 14th August, a baby common dolphin stranded in Gunwalloe on the Lizard peninsula and was recorded by Cornwall Wildlife Trust’s Marine Stranding Network (MSN). A subsequent post-mortem of the dolphin was carried out by a veterinary pathologist as part of the Cetacean Strandings Investigation Progamme in which MSN is a partner. The report shared with Cornwall Wildlife Trust on Monday 14th September determined that the cause of death was head trauma, most likely caused by boat strike.

The death came during a period in which the Trust and the Cornwall Marine and Coastal Code Group (a partnership of organisations tackling the issue of marine wildlife disturbance) was receiving extremely high levels of disturbance reports from the public. Use of marine vessels such as RIBS, jet skis and Stand Up Paddleboards near marine life is harassing and chasing dolphins away from their territory and away from Cornish coastline.

David Davies, Dead Common Dolphin Gunwalloe Fishing Cove (14th August 2020)

David Davies

This baby dolphin represents the very reason we are working so hard in Cornwall to raise people’s awareness of the issue of marine wildlife disturbance by water users. It is a devastating result which could have been avoided with more responsible behaviour.
Abby Crosby
Marine Conservation Officer for Cornwall Wildlife Trust

Activities both at sea and on the coast can have considerable impact on our wonderful Cornish marine wildlife, whether by boats at sea, unaware rock climbers or adventurer kayakers. Harassment can cause distress and make the animal change its natural behaviour. In the worst case it can lead to serious injuries, amputations and eventual death.

The law (Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981) states that it is an offence to intentionally or recklessly harass any dolphin, porpoise, whale or basking shark. A conviction carries the maximum sentence of £5,000 and/or six months imprisonment.  Recent amendments to the Wildlife & Countryside Act means that ignorance is no longer deemed a suitable excuse; it is up to all of us to act responsibly around marine wildlife.

Abby continues:

“This is a sad and avoidable incident resulting in the tragic death of a young dolphin. Not only is it a disaster for the conservation of this special animal, but the death of this young dolphin will have been incredibly traumatic for the mother and the rest of the family.

It is essential that those people who enjoy our Cornish coast and sea familiarise themselves with the codes of conducts available through the Cornwall Marine and Coastal Code Group. If more people follow these guidelines, we can make sure we can still enjoy watching these beautiful animals whilst protecting them at the same time”

Paddleboarders around common dolphins, Cornwall Aug 2020, Photo by Peter Nason

Peter Nason

For anyone visiting our coastline or lucky enough to get on or in the sea, both Cornwall Wildlife Trust and the Cornwall Marine and Coastal Code Group urge people to remember the following:

  • The Marine Disturbance Hotline can be called 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on 0345 2012626. We want members of the public to report any instance of disturbance they see, with video or photographs if possible and safe.
  • The Code of Conduct web pages explains the issues, how you can help and the best way to watch marine wildlife in a safe and responsible manner.
  • We recommend that all boat owners become accredited through the WiSe (Wildlife Safe) scheme. WiSe provides training and accreditation for operators of registered passenger and charter vessels who wish to view marine wildlife.