Southwest bottlenose dolphin project

Help our bottlenose dolphins

Photo by George Karbus

Have you seen a bottlenose dolphin in the South West of England?  They are amazing creatures. If you would like to help protect and understand them, please take and send us high quality photos! 

In the South West we are lucky to have a resident pod of 28 bottlenose dolphins. Sadly, this pod is in serious threat of decline due to their low numbers, lack of statutory protection and increased vulnerability to disturbance owing to their proximity to human populations. To not only ensure the SW pod’s survival but for the pod to thrive the best scientific evidence is needed to both support and encourage conservation action.

The South West Bottlenose Dolphin Consortium, a partnership of stakeholders lead by the Cornwall Wildlife Trust, was set up in 2016 to gather the information needed for their protection. The consortium collated records and photos of bottlenose dolphin encounters from the general public, with reports coming from ferries, marine tour operators, charitable organisations, land-based observers and other interested parties. An amazing amount of information was gathered during this research, unfortunately highlighting that this small population is at severe risk of local extinction and that much more work was needed for their effective conservation.

With clear photos, like this one, individual dolphins can be identified. 

Bottlenose dolphin dorsal fin

Photo by Dan Murphy

We are looking for any photographs or sighting reports you may have, new or old, of bottlenose dolphins in the south west of England.

Bottlenose dolphins can easily be recognised through their large sickle-shaped dorsal fins as the trailing edge is particularly susceptible to scratches and tears. This tissue rarely regenerates leaving permanent notches and markings which can be used to identify individuals much like our own fingerprints. Photographic encounters can help identify individual animals from these marks which can help us understand not only their distribution, but social structure, seasonal preferences and population estimates. Looking back at historical photos can also help to understand the survival of individual dolphins between years.

However, although all sighting reports are welcome, to ensure we can identify individual bottlenose dolphins we need high-quality photos that are well lit and centred on the dorsal fin. Photographing the whole pod is also very helpful as it can help track which dolphins associate with each other which is important for understanding their social structure.

Whilst it is encouraged to look out for and send in photos of the bottlenose dolphins it is an offence to deliberately disturb or harass a dolphin in its natural environment, keeping this in mind, photographers should keep their distance, allowing any encounter to be on an animal’s terms.

If you would like to become a citizen scientist and submit your encounters new or old please head over to the ERCCIS website, or for more information please contact shauna.corr@postgrad.plymouth.ac.uk. Members of the public were instrumental in discovering this resident pod and are greatly needed to continue this work to conserve them! We really appreciate your help! 

For more info download our bottlenose dolphin factsheet, below;