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Bottlenose dolphins © Christopher Swann

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Sperm whale (physeter macrocephalus) Gulf of California. The tail of a sperm whale.

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A dolphin plays in front of the WDC Scottish Dolphin Centre at Spey Bay

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An orca named 'Hulk' off Caithness, Scotland

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Minke whale - V Mignon

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Sponging dolphin in Shark Bay

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Real lives lost – the true dolphin, porpoise and whale stories behind the bycatch statistics

Every dolphin, porpoise and whale who dies in fishing gear was an individual with their own life story. They probably had a family and friends, a culture and an identity. Each death is a tragedy that didn’t have to happen and a life we had the power to save.

I'm going to to tell you some of the stories of those individuals who have died in UK seas to put fish and shellfish on our plates. I'm afraid you will find some of the images upsetting, but these stories shouldn't stay hidden under the waves.

Harbour porpoise Eastbourne harbour 2 CSIP-ZSL (one of pair)

We CAN stop this suffering and say Goodbye Bycatch

More than 1,000 dolphins, porpoises and whales die as ‘bycatch’ in UK fishing gear in UK seas every year. When you read a statistic like that, it’s shocking but it’s easy to lose sight of the individuals who make up that terrible death toll.  Please join our campaign and put pressure on the UK and devolved governments to make UK seas safer for these beautiful, intelligent dolphins, porpoises and whales.

Common dolphin Branscome, Devon. Image CSIP-ZSL and MCGA
Common dolphin Branscome, Devon. Image CSIP-ZSL and MCGA

This female common dolphin was found on Branscombe Beach in Devon. She suffered terrible injuries to her face, caused by the net pulling so tightly around her beak and mouth that it cut deep into her skin.

Minke whale, Orkney. Image: SMASS
Minke whale, Orkney. Image: SMASS

This minke whale was pregnant and carrying a mid-term foetus when she got a piece of discarded trawl net caught in her mouth. Because the net was stuck in her baleen, which is what whales use to filter food out of the water, she would have been unable to feed herself and she died. She was found on an Orkney beach in 2019. So very sad.

Orca named Lulu, Tiree, Scotland. Image SMASS
Orca named Lulu, Tiree, Scotland. Image SMASS

One morning in 2016, Lulu a young female orca of just 20 years old was found dead on a beach on the Hebridean island of Tiree. Several days earlier she had become entangled in fishing rope used to haul pots up from the seabed. With no way to escape, she died a drawn-out and excruciating death as she was slowly dragged under the water by the gear wrapped around her body until eventually, unable to reach the surface to breathe, she suffocated.

Porpoise, Chesil Beach, Dorset. Image CSIP-ZSL
Porpoise, Chesil Beach, Dorset. Image CSIP-ZSL

In July 2020, this porpoise was found dead off the Dorset coast. He had terrible injuries to his tail and face where fishing net had cut deep into his flesh. This poor porpoise would have suffered both mentally and physically before he died, unable to reach the surface to breathe.

This baby dolphin was found on a Cornish beach. Image CWT
This baby dolphin was found on a Cornish beach. Image CWT
Common dolphin found with her baby. Image: CWT
Common dolphin found with her baby. Image: CWT

This mother and her baby daughter were found dead on Castle Beach in Falmouth, Cornwall. They both bore the tell-tale wounds from entanglement in fishing net. What a terrible, tragic waste of life.

Humpback whale Dunbar, Scotland. Image East Lothian Ranger Service
Humpback whale Dunbar, Scotland. Image East Lothian Ranger Service

This young humpback whale was feeding in the area for a few weeks and locals had noticed something attached to him which they thought was a buoy. When his body washed up in Dunbar, East Scotland, there was no sign of a buoy but he was tangled in creel rope which cut deeply into his flesh and restricted his movement. He would probably have suffered for quite some time before he died.

Bottlenose dolphin Fowey, Cornwall. Image CWT
Bottlenose dolphin Fowey, Cornwall. Image CWT

This poor bottlenose dolphin was severed in half by fishing net. We can only imagine the pain and fear that this individual suffered. As populations of coastal bottlenose dolphins tend to be small and the population in Cornish waters, includes only around 40 individuals, every single dolphin death in a net is not only a personal catastrophe but threatens the survival of the population.

There are more than 1,000 of these tragedies every single year in UK waters. It’s so sad - harrowing even - but I hope that by telling some of their stories, we can remember that behind the statistics there are real individuals and genuine suffering. It’s time to say Goodbye Bycatch. Please join our campaign.

Please join our campaign

Use our simple form to send a message to the fisheries minister, thank you.

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About Julia Pix

Communications manager - Public Engagement

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