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Just a baby - infant porpoise death sparks appeal for further help
Cornwall Wildlife Trust

19th February 2004

The discovery of a dead baby porpoise, close to the bodies of three adults on the same beach, has brought home the sadness of the crisis facing Cornwall’s marine creatures.

For volunteers from the Cornwall Wildlife Trust, the distressing sight of dolphin and porpoise corpses has become only too familiar.  So far this year, 102 have been washed up on the county’s shores.

Despite the harrowing experiences which await them, the Trust’s “strandings volunteers” rush to each tragic scene to gather evidence which will help prove the link between these deaths and certain fishing methods.  Evidence which is vital if the animals are ever to be protected from such hazards.

“You simply have to switch off to the unpleasantness and concentrate on what you’re doing, otherwise the futility of it all would get to you,” says volunteer Jan Loveridge, who with husband Jeff was called out to record details of the infant porpoise.  “These creatures are being slaughtered mercilessly and we know they die in a horrific way, either being suffocated slowly or crushed to death in the nets.”

Information painstakingly gleaned from recording, measuring and examining carcasses is proving highly persuasive, as the Trust’s Marine Officer Ruth Williams explains:

“The pressure on the Government to do something about ‘fisheries by-catch’ is becoming more and more intense, with a number of high-profile campaigns and reports – from ourselves and other organisations – establishing the case beyond reasonable doubt.

“As a result, an EFRA (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) select committee has made strong recommendations to the Government for action.  We welcome this response, but we want to see the necessary measures taken sooner rather than later.  The time for just talking is over.”

In the meantime, the Trust intends to keep up the pressure and continue to assemble even more compelling proof of the causes and the scale of the tragedy.  The 102 bodies washed up, it stresses, are just the tip of an iceberg, as most disappear far out at sea.  Ruth Williams is asking for support to keep this work going.

“Over the years, the Trust has built up a substantial database on strandings of porpoises, dolphins, whales and other large sea creatures,” says Ruth.  “Our figures are sent to the Natural History Museum in London, where they add significantly to the national strandings database, and they are frequently quoted by organisations such as Greenpeace and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.

“It’s important to recognise that none of the reports and campaigns would have been possible, nor could there have been any realistic expectation of Government action, without the solid data gathered by our volunteers in Cornwall.

“To save these magnificent and intelligent animals from a painful and needless death, we must obtain further funding for this work.  Although the volunteers give their time freely, the back-up they need costs money which we, as a local charity, can ill afford.

“We have to train volunteers in the necessary techniques.  We have to provide each with a strandings kit, including equipment to protect them against diseases, tags to identify carcasses and stretchers for transportation of the animals to post-mortem.  We also have to fund our Marine Conservation Team, which co-ordinates the activities, analyses the information and lobbies MPs and ministers.”

Anyone wishing to make a contribution is asked to send donations (made payable to Cornwall Wildlife Trust) to the Cornwall Wildlife Trust Dolphin and Porpoise Appeal, Five Acres, Allet, Truro, Cornwall, TR4 9DQ