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Dolphin strands alive

Cornish Wildlife Trust

12th December 2005

Yesterday Cornwall Wildlife Trust and British Divers Marine Life Rescue were called out to a live stranding incident.  A common dolphin was swimming very close to the shore at Porthleven.  The animal was in distress and entangled in netting.  British Divers Marine Life Rescue medics guided it in to the breakwater and removed the netting and medics soon realised that it was in very poor bodily condition.  It was missing a large chunk of its caudal fin and had several wounds and after a veterinary surgeon was called out to assess its condition, the decision was made to euthanase the dolphin.

Volunteers of Cornwall Wildlife Trust’s Strandings Network; the official cetacean strandings recorder in Cornwall, made an initial assessment of the dead animal, taking various measurements and photographs, and secured the animal for post mortem.  It appears from this initial assessment that this dolphin had become entangled in nets and then later been cut out of these nets.  Unfortunately not all the net was removed from the body and some net remained wrapped around the head and under the pectoral fin, where it continued to cut into the dolphin.  The netting was 10-inch monkfish net, which is thought to be set by local fishermen on the seabed in inshore waters.  The results of the post mortem will help determine what actually occurred.

This comes just weeks after the same volunteers dealt with a similar live stranding but this time of the more rare Bottlenose dolphin in Penzance.  This dolphin was also in extremely poor health, but monofilament netting was found embedded in lacerations on its body, which indicated that it was entangled in a set net at some stage prior to its death.  However the post mortem was inconclusive regarding the cause of death.

During 2003/ 2004 winter season, 223 dead harbour porpoises were reported from beaches around Cornwall, concentrated around Penzance and St. Austell bays.  The majority of these animals showed evidence of being bycaught in the inshore set-net fisheries.

Joana Doyle, Marine Conservation Officer for Cornwall Wildlife Trust said, “Cornwall Wildlife Trust has long suspected that the inshore set net fisheries pose a threat, not only to the harbour porpoise, but also to dolphins and other animals including birds”.

Dolphins are nationally and internationally protected and the UK is under obligation through various international agreements it has signed up to, to work to protect them.  Cornwall Wildlife Trust wants to see more effort focused on trying to reduce this bycatch in inshore set net fisheries.  Joana Doyle continued, “Fishermen are probably not reporting this bycatch out of fear of losing their livelihoods, however, incidents such as this live stranding will only result in greater pressure on the regulatory bodies to restrict these inshore fisheries.”

Cornwall Wildlife Trust is appealing to the public and fishing communities to report live strandings of cetaceans to the British Divers Marine Life Rescue on: 01825 765546 and dead strandings to Cornwall Wildlife Trust Strandings network on: 0845 201 2626.


Dead stranded common dolphin
Photograph by Rory Goodall
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dead the live stranded dolphin