Concern grows over rising dolphin and porpoise deaths in UK and France

The growing numbers of dolphins and porpoises washing up dead on the south west coast of the UK is continuing to cause concern.

Over 100 have been reported dead on beaches in Cornwall and in fishing boat nets in eight weeks, according to the Cornwall Wildlife Trust, bringing the toll for last year to 205.

Of particular concern is the manner of these deaths with many being caught in fishing nets. Of 13 taken for recent post-mortem examinations, five showed signs of being caught in nets. The larger (often French) trawlers operating out to sea have been cited as a possible cause, with local Cornish trawler men reporting that they are often hauling up already dead and rotting dolphins.

Whilst it is still not completely clear what is behind the recent strandings, or indeed how unusual the number of deaths maybe, unless a post mortem (or necropsy) is carried out on the individuals quickly, it becomes very difficult to ascertain the cause of death. It has not been possible to carry out necropsies on many of these dead whales and dolphins because the bodies are too decomposed, but potential causes include illness, the effects of pollution as well as entanglement in fishing nets.

Thousands of dolphins and porpoises die in nets in UK waters every year and most of the protection these vulnerable creatures have comes from the EU. But, after Brexit they won’t even have that. We need the English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish governments to make sure effective laws are in place to protect dolphins, porpoises and whales in UK seas after Britain leaves the EU.

Since February 3rd, almost 200 dolphins and porpoises have been found stranded along the French Atlantic coast, between the Loire and Gironde estuaries. Ninety eight percent of the recorded stranded animals were common dolphins most examined by Observatoire PELAGIS or members of French stranding network (Reseau National Echouage or RNE).  Of the 68 examinations 85% showed evidences capture in fishing gear or nets. These included broken beaks, cut-off fin or tail fluke, external net marks, and froth in lungs.

Dolphins can’t breathe underwater. Trapped in a net, they will panic, and many are injured as they try to escape. When they can’t struggle any more, they will close their blowhole and drown.

Next week sees the launch of a new campaign by WDC to try to reduce the scale of these terrible deaths.