Warnings over dolphin disturbances with more people visiting the coast as lockdown lifts

Wildlife campaigners have warned the public that as COVID restrictions lift, marine mammals are at an increased risk of disturbance which can have a "devastating impact" on them.

Rebecca Pow, Environment Minister at the National Wildlife Crime Unit, has urged people visiting the UK’s coasts to familiarise themselves with the guidance put in place to protect sea life.

Marine wildlife have been enjoying the peaceful waters in the UK since the first lockdown, with more bottlenose dolphins being spotted along the Blackpool coastline, and orcas and dolphins seen swimming off the coast of Northumberland.

However, as the UK continues to follow the roadmap out of lockdown and many people head down to the coast, wildlife experts fear this sudden influx of visitors will cause a rise in incidents that disrupt the sea life.

The Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) are asking that people spending time at the beach this spring and summer give space to dolphins and animals, keeping sure to watch them from a good distance away and not crowd them.

Katie Dyke, from WDC, said: "UK seas are a special place for dolphins and whales, being home to 21 species – more than anywhere else in northern Europe.

"They are also a rapidly growing destination for marine recreation and tourism, which is increasing levels of disturbance."

Disturbances to marine mammals caused by human activity could be detrimental and lead to the animals being scared off from the habitat, injured or even killed, according to the WDC.

Most disturbances are accidental, as many holiday goers are unaware of how to behave around sea life, and do not know about the laws against disturbing cetaceans.

Sea mammals such as whales, dolphins and porpoises across UK coasts are all protected under law against reckless or deliberate disturbance, harassment, killing and injury, with fines of up to £5,000.

Despite prosecutions being rare, the WDC have reported they often see incidents where dolphins and other animals are disturbed by people.

Over 193 incidents were reported to the Cornwall Marine and Coastal Code Group according to most recent data.

Danny Groves, communications manager at WDC stated: "This is just one sample region in the UK, the issue is a lot more wide spread.

"Part of the problem (and what we are calling for here) is that people who see incidents don’t know how serious the issue is, whether to report it, or even who to report it to!"

The WDC has advised people to consider the following to reduce disturbances to sea life:

– Don’t chase or try to repeatedly approach the animals, swim with them, feed or touch them

– Watch them from the shore

– Keep a safe distance in boats

– Stay calm and quiet

– Check if boat tour operators are accredited with the Wildlife Safe (WiSe) scheme for minimising disturbance to marine wildlife

– Report any incidents.

Chief Inspector Kevin Kelly, head of the NWCU has asked holiday goers to be mindful while at the coast: "Wildlife watching is an amazing experience and it can be very easy to get lost in the moment.

"Give marine mammals space to exhibit natural behaviour in their natural environment without harassment or disturbance. Keep your distance, show respect and be responsible."

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