A man who was seen in his speedboat corralling a pod of feeding bottlenose dolphins off the North Yorkshire coast has been found guilty of causing disturbance.
On 9 July 2021 Christopher Barker, 45, from Brompton-by-Sawdon, was seen to drive the high-powered boat numerous times around the pod close to the shore off Scarborough’s South Bay, causing the pod to panic and split up.
Witnesses were left shocked and distressed as Mr Barker continued to circle the pod at excessive speeds.
Following an investigation by North Yorkshire Police, Barker was charged with intentionally or recklessly disturbing a dolphin – an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
After pleading guilty, he was fined £200, and ordered to pay a victim surcharge and prosecution costs totalling £334.
PC Graham Bilton, Wildlife Crime Officer for North Yorkshire Police, who investigated the incident, said: ‘Dolphins are an intelligent, social species, often living in large communal groups. Over recent years sightings of dolphins off the Yorkshire coast have increased dramatically, proving popular with locals and tourists alike. But this has also led to an increased risk of human interference.’
Marine mammals are sensitive to disturbance, especially when they have young, are resting, feeding or socialising. Human disturbance can frighten them and scare them away from important habitats, and in extreme cases, injury or kill them.
‘Our key aim is to stop disturbance before it happens by raising awareness of the issues’, says WDC’s Katie Dyke. ‘UK seas are a special place for dolphins and whales, being home to more than 20 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. Many species are seen close to shore and disturbance happens when people get too near to marine wildlife, disrupt their natural behaviours and cause them stress. A good encounter is one that is enjoyable for you and the whales or dolphins.’
We calling for all wildlife crimes, including marine incidents, to be notifiable offences, that legislation used to prosecute wildlife crime should be reviewed and updated, training should be set up for Police call handlers and prosecutors on marine wildlife crime cases, and the number of qualified police investigators undertaking wildlife crime investigations should be increased to counter the threat of disturbance.
Of particular concern is the lack of awareness of the existing laws around disturbance by people using these craft, or who attempt to jump in and swim with dolphins in the sea.
Public information on this issue can be found here: https://uk.whales.org/our-4-goals/create-healthy-seas/watch-out-for-dolphins-when-you-are-on-the-water