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More dolphins fall victim to UK trawlers

Western Morning News

15th December 2003

The dolphin death toll is increasing with three more washed up on Cornwall's coast.

Post-mortem examinations have yet to be performed but Ruth Williams, marine conservation officer for Cornwall Wildlife Trust, said the three victims almost certainly died as a result of bass pair trawling.

"This year we have already had far more dolphin deaths than last year and there are still a few weeks to go," she said. "The bycatch deaths have started earlier this season so it doesn't look good for the coming months."

Two of the three common dolphins were washed up at Portholland and Porthluney, on Cornwall's south coast. The third was spotted by members of Orca Sea-faris, out on a wildlife watching trip on Thursday.

Captain Keith Leeves, who runs the Falmouth-based company, said: "We were on a 'seafari' with some students from Falmouth College of Art and were having a great time. We had found some seals feeding and were on our way to Gul Rock when we saw this sad, dead dolphin.

"I managed to get a rope on its tail and put it on to the boat. There was evidence all over the dolphin's body of net damage."

Captain Leeves contacted Falmouth Coastguard and asked them to alert Cornwall Wildlife Trust and Silver Dolphin, a Porthleven-based conservation group.

Members from both organisations were quick to respond, confirming Captain Leeve's identification that it was a male common dolphin. He has now offered to help the wildlife groups collect film evidence of trawlers catching dolphins in their nets, if anyone wants to donate money for fuel for the trips. "We are not just a commercial operator and would like to help to bring some pressure to bear on this subject.

"We want to be out there spotting live wildlife, not dead dolphins," said Captain Leeves.

Ruth Williams said the Trust wanted to collect as much hard hitting evidence about dolphin deaths as it could.

"Although the EU is set to pass a regulation so that mandatory observers will be on boats in the pelagic fleet, that will not be until next year at the earliest and the timetable seems to be slipping.

"We need to keep up the pressure on the Government and any evidence such as film would help.

"From my point of view there is no doubt that dolphin was bycatch. It had net marks and fin scrapes all over it from the fish it had been bashing around in the net with, and those marks look like bass fins.

"It also had a bashed-up beak where it had been thrashing about and it was very fresh, no more than a day old so the boats are obviously fishing close to the shore."

The dead dolphins have been taken to the veterinary investigation centre at Polwhele for post-mortem examinations. The results will be sent to the Natural History Museum, in London, which keeps a national record.

This recording project is run jointly by the Cornwall and Devon Wildlife Trusts. It is for people who are interested in the larger marine creatures such as dolphins, whales, seals, turtles and basking sharks.

Cornwall Wildlife Trust founded Seaquest in 1988 to gather information and raise awareness about marine life.