Whales and dolphins are under growing threat from jet-skis after disturbances to marine wildlife in Cornwall tripled, experts warn
Jet-skis and motorboats are posing a major threat to whales and dolphins, conservationists have warned.
Disturbances to marine wildlife in Cornwall have tripled since 2014, The Wildlife Trusts said in its annual marine review.
Warning of a rise in the number of jet-skis and motorboats, the charity said a bottlenose dolphin washed up dead in Ireland in September with injuries suggesting it had been struck by a boat.
In Cornish waters alone marine wildlife disturbances have gone from 105 in 2014 to 371 last year.
Climate change is believed to be sending whales, dolphins and porpoises further afield than usual.
This year, two orcas were spotted off the Cornish coast – the furthest south they had been seen in more than half a century.
Volunteers with the dead dolphin mother and calf which were washed up on Godrevy beach near St Ives, Cornwall, in 2018
Danielle Clifford, marine conservation officer at The Wildlife Trusts, said: ‘It’s great to see so many people enjoying our coastlines, but it’s critical that doesn’t come at a cost to wildlife.
‘Whales, dolphins, porpoises and sharks are highly intelligent animals and vessels can unintentionally disturb, hit and injure them.’
Interest in marine wildlife has soared in recent years, thanks to the enduring appeal of the BBC’s Blue Planet and the fame of whales like ‘Benny the Beluga’, which visited Kent, or ‘Minnie’, the minke whale which stranded in the Thames this year.
But this year The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales witnessed a seal pup being abandoned by its mother after people were seen taking selfies with the pup.
The whale-watching craze has been fuelled by growing sightings of majestic humpback whales, described in the Wildlife Trusts’ marine review.
In the three years to the end of 2021, the Cornish Wildlife Trust recorded sightings of 75 humpback whales, new figures show.
In 2017 and 2018, only one humpback each year were seen, with the creatures having benefited from the commercial whaling ban of 1986 and large shoals of the sardines they eat.
White-beaked dolphins were seen off Essex for the first time in more than 20 years, appearing in the Blackwater estuary this April, despite ordinarily being found in the subarctic waters of the North Atlantic.
Climate change is believed to be sending whales, dolphins and porpoises – collectively known as cetaceans – further afield than usual, with two bottlenose dolphins first recorded in Scotland’s Moray Firth in 2009 now living in Weymouth Bay, Dorset.
An orca spotted from Minnack Theatre in Cornwall. This year, two orcas were spotted off the Cornish coast – the furthest south they had been seen in more than half a century
However conservationists warn humpbacks, also seen this year off the coast of Northumberland, Pembrokeshire and in the Firth of Forth, face challenges from noise pollution and large boats at sea.
In July, a young, emaciated humpback whale with visible injuries on its tail temporarily halted the Great Britain Sail Grand Prix.
The marine review outlines wildlife winners and losers of 2021, including the Arctic walrus nicknamed Wally, which found instant stardom after travelling thousands of miles to the UK, but represented a worrying sign of climate change.
An investigation is ongoing into ‘apocalyptic’ scenes of thousands of dead crabs, lobsters, and birds including guillemots and razorbills which were found washed up on the Northumberland and Scottish coasts this year.
But happier wildlife news includes a pair of puffins seen on the Isle of Man for the first time in more than 30 years.