Holiday makers must be alert to potential legal action over dolphin disturbance
Changes to the regulations around jet ski use are a timely reminder to holiday makers and recreational water users to act responsibly around wildlife, or risk potential legal action.
As more people are visiting the coast and enjoying taking to the water, the potential of harm to whales and dolphins is growing, especially at peak holiday times. The new jet ski legislation will grant more powers to prosecute people for the dangerous misuse of such watercraft, misuse that can have lethal impacts on marine wildlife.
Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) has been working to raise awareness of and reduce this threat, providing advice to members of the public on what not to do when in the water near whales, dolphins and porpoises, and what signs to look out for if they are disturbed.
For many people, encountering whales and dolphins whilst on the water is an amazing experience, but incidents of disturbance are increasing and many water users on jet skis, paddleboards or in kayaks simply do not know what the rules are or how to report incidents they do witness.
Disturbances in Cornwall alone have tripled in recent years (since 2014). Reports of jet ski incidents have included the harassment of 20 dolphins and their calves near Newquay, disturbance of sea birds at a nature reserve near South Stack, Anglesey, and a reported case of dolphin being disturbed in Cardigan Bay Wales. Volunteers with WDC’s Shorewatch citizen science programme who have been recording the presence of whales and dolphins at sites around the shore for over a decade, now also collect data on disturbance to better understand where these incidents are happening in Scotland.
‘UK seas are a special place for dolphins and whales, being home to more than 20 species, more than anywhere else in northern Europe’, says Dr Carla Boreham, director of campaigns and policy. ‘A good encounter is one that is enjoyable for you and does not harm the whales or dolphins.’
‘Whilst the new law changes around jet ski use are welcomed, we are calling for disturbance of marine mammals to become a notifiable offence in England and Wales so that official Home Office records are kept of these offences, enabling better understanding over time of problem hotspots and where to direct police resources.’
Mark Harrison, Detective Sgt, National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) says:‘As the holiday season gets underway, more people will be heading to our coastline to enjoy the beaches, the scenery and the wildlife.
‘It is great to see people getting outside and connecting with nature but it is important to remember that wildlife needs space. By intruding, getting too close and disturbing whales, dolphins and other marine wildlife, people could affect the health of these creatures, preventing them from eating, breeding and raising their young. I would rather prevent a crime than investigate one.’
Public information on this issue can be found on our website.
All suspected cases of disturbance should be reported to the police on: 101. Tell the operator that you are reporting a wildlife crime and ask for an incident number to ensure that reports can be tracked. Provide as much information as possible, including:
- the date, time and location of the disturbance
- the behaviour of any vessels and of the whales and dolphins before, during and after the event
- if possible, the species involved
- the duration of the interaction
- any identifying features of the people or vessel involved, such as the boat name and the clothes worn.