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Large number of dead porpoises washed ashore


21st January 2004

Scientists say dead porpoises are being washed ashore in unusually large numbers in south-west England.

A total of 35 were recorded in the first three weeks of this year by scientists from the Natural History Museum's National Whale Stranding Scheme.

The number of porpoise strandings on the UK's south west coast is already double last year's total figure of 15 for the whole of January 2003.

The number of porpoise deaths this year currently exceeds the number of dolphin deaths, the reverse of the normal trend.

Now the Natural History Museum is appealing for members of the public, whether working or living near or visiting the coast, to help porpoises and dolphins by reporting all strandings as quickly as possible.

The strandings can be reported direct to the Natural History Museum's National Whale Strandings Scheme hotline on 020 7942 5155 or by contacting one of the many local wildlife and conservation groups that help the work of the museum in recording the total number of stranded animals in UK waters.

Richard Sabin, the scheme's co-ordinator for the museum, said: "The unusually high number of porpoise deaths is unprecedented and is the highest January total since recording for the National Whale Strandings Programme began in 1918.

"Stormy weather and winds blowing in from the sea are amongst several factors affecting the number of dolphin and porpoise carcasses washed up on the shore. Where possible, carcasses considered suitable will be recovered for post mortem examination to determine the cause of death."

The scheme records all whales, dolphins and porpoises stranded in UK waters in order to build up a picture of species distribution, age and sea profiles, when and where strandings occur.

Marine strandings occur for a number of reasons, including sickness, disorientation, natural mortality, extreme weather conditions or injury. More recently, one of the main causes of death has been identified as bycatch-animals being accidentally caught in fishing nets.