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Cornwall is a whale and dolphin hotspot

18/10/2011 14:27:16

SPECTACULAR SIGHT: A bottlenose dolphin off the coast of Cornwall. Picture: Adrian Langdon

But bycatch problems persist..
October 2011:Despite huge pressures, Cornwall remains a hot spot for numerous marine species, including whales, dolphins and seals according to a new report.

Over the past year, Cornwall Wildlife Trust's Marine Stranding Network examined and recorded 58 stranded cetaceans (dolphins, whales and porpoises), the lowest number in Cornwall since 1997. Unusually, they included a humpback whale - the first for the county - a rare white-beaked dolphin and a fin whale. Eighty-seven grey seals, and two blue sharks were also recorded and numerous other marine species were added to the MSN's expansive database, which holds a vast amount of information going back many years.

Studying these animals is revealing a wealth of knowledge about their lives and the threats they face day-by-day, which often lead to their demise.

We received 1,000 calls last year telling us about stranded animals
Ruth Williams, marine conservation manager for 
Cornwall Wildlife Trust says: ‘Conserving sealife and the broader marine environment is important not only for our fishing industry, but also for tourism and for those of us lucky enough to live here.'

Jan Loveridge, co-ordinator of the Marine Strandings Network, says: ‘One of the ways we can research the health of the seas around us is to monitor stranded marine animals.

‘Last year we received more than 1,000 calls telling us about stranded animals. All of them were responded to by one of our trained team and were examined, photographed and recorded. We retrieved 15 freshly dead dolphins and porpoises for post-mortem examination. They can often determine what caused the animals' death and run tests to check for such things as heavy metals, parasites and diseases.

DEADLY: A seal killed by becoming entangled
in fishing nets. Picture: Faye Archell

‘Discovering what bacteria and viruses these animals are carrying is a crucial part of this research, particularly as some of these diseases can affect us too. However, the recent announcement that this vital service will end in Cornwall with the closure of the laboratory facilities at Polwhele has caused great concern.

Entanglement a serious animal welfare issue
‘Although post-mortems will apparently continue, when the laboratory closes we will see only half the picture. This will be a massive blow to marine mammal research both nationally and internationally.'

Among the findings during 2010, were that five of the harbour porpoises examined had been attacked by bottlenose dolphins, a species that is generally regarded as playful and friendly.

Ruth adds: ‘Accidental entrapment of cetaceans in fishing nets is still a cause for great concern, and once again bycatch was found to pose a real threat to dolphins and porpoises around Cornwall.'

During 2010 there were also recordings of 87 grey seals, comprising 35 pups and 52 adults and juveniles. This is the highest annual total recorded to date and mortalities peaked between September and November. Sadly entanglement, particularly in monofilament fishing net, was again identified as serious animal health and welfare issue.

There were no basking sharks or turtles reported stranded during 2010, but other species found included two blue sharks, 81 trigger fish, and the beautiful and rarely seen violet sea snail.


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