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New government marine wildlife code to help reduce dolphin disturbance

RIB with dolphin

The launch today by UK Government of new guidance on how to act responsibly around wildlife when you visit the coast will help to raise awareness of growing issues that can threaten marine life, including the growing popularity of drones.

We have been working to raise awareness of this threat and have also helped input into the new code, which highlights what to do when on the water if whales, dolphins and porpoises are present, and what signs to look out for if they are disturbed.

It is illegal to disturb whales and dolphins and, as May half term holiday approaches, the weather warms and more people seek to enjoy spending time at the coast and on the sea, the risk of harm to wildlife is increasing.

’We wouldn’t endorse members of the public flying drones in the near vicinity of whales or dolphins as a growing body of research indicates that this can cause stress and disturbance. Drones have the ability to move quickly into range, and their presence especially at low altitude may be perceived as a threat, resulting in avoidance and altered behaviour’, says Anna Moscrop, UK policy manager at WDC.

For many people, encountering whales and dolphins whilst on the water is an amazing experience, but disturbance incidents often occur because 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).

‘UK seas are a special place for dolphins and whales, and are home to over 20 species',  says Moscrop.
‘Whilst the new wildlife code and legal changes around jet ski misuse are welcomed, we are calling for disturbance of marine mammals to become a notifiable offence in England and Wales so that a police record is kept of these potential offences and for us to be able to understand and respond appropriately to hot spots/ problem times of the year.’

Marine Minister Lord Benyon said: ‘The Marine and Coastal Wildlife Code will enable everyone to make the most of our treasured outdoor places whilst protecting the very species and habitats that make our coastline so special.’

Public information on this issue can be found here:
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. Tell the operator 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.