British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) was formed in 1988, when a few like-minded divers got together in response to a mass mortality of common seals in the Wash area of East Anglia, to do what they could for the rescue effort in response to the Phocine Distemper Virus epidemic that resulted in thousands of deaths.

Since 1988, BDMLR has been involved in the rescue of marine wildlife after every major marine disaster, including the Braer shipwreck in Shetland, the Sea Empress grounding in Milford Haven, and the Napoli shipwreck in Dorset.

Seal rescue has remained a major component of the BDMLR’s work, with medics rescuing animals in all seasons around the UK.

Although seal rescue has remained a key component of the charity’s work, it has become progressively more involved in the response to stranded and entangled cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoise). BDMLR were founder members of the Marine Animal Rescue Coalition (MARC), an affiliation of organisations with an active interest and involvement in the management of marine mammal strandings in the UK, with a primary focus of improving the response to live cetacean strandings. This has been achieved through sharing information and opinions, encouraging training and equipment, and consideration of the options available for the disposition of beached animals in the context of UK strandings patterns.

Every year, BDMLR trains over 1000 volunteer Marine Mammal Medics and has 20 whale rescue pontoons located at strategic points throughout the UK, waiting to help stranded whales and dolphins. Medics are trained to provide them with the basic knowledge, skills and expertise to enable our volunteer teams to respond to a callout and act on behalf of that animal’s best welfare interests.

BDMLR is a registered charity, number 803438 in England and Wales, and SC039304 in Scotland.

Trustees (Directors)

Chairman: Alan Knight OBE, BSc (Hons)
Trustee: Mark Stevens BEd (Hons)
Trustee: Geoff Hammock
Trustee: Gavin Parsons
Trustee: Faye Archell BSc (Hons) Cert Ed
Trustee: Martin Boon

Veterinary consultants

Veterinary Support Coordinator: Natalie Arrow BVetMed MVetSci MRCVS
James Barnett BSc (Hons) BVSc MRCVS
Paul Jepson PhD BVMS MRCVS
Steve Bexton BVMS MRCVS
Jon Cracknell BVMS CertVA CertZooMed MRCVS
Jo Hedley CertZooMed MRCVS
Sean Langton BVetMed CertVA DipECVAA MAcadMEd FHEA MRCVS

Scientific consultants

Mark Simmonds OBE
Susan Wilson PhD LLM
Sue Sayer
Rob Deaville BSc


Doug Allan
Gordon Corrins
Kate Humble
Monty Halls
Miranda Krestovnikoff
Elizabeth Emanuel
Dr Martha Holmes
Amanda Levick


  • 1988: BDMLR forms in response to the Phocine Distemper Virus epidemic in the North Sea, helping to reach infected seals and bringing them for rehabilitation with the RSPCA.
  • 1992: A team of divers travels to the Faeroe Islands and uncovers evidence of cetacean hunting, which is exposed to the world.
  • 1993: BDMLR and the Born Free Foundation work together to rehabilitate and release three captive bottlenose dolphins back to the wild, in a mission called Into The Blue.
  • 1993: A team is dispatched to Shetland to assist with the recovery of oiled wildlife casualties following the Braer shipwreck.
  • 1995: BDMLR responds to the live stranding of a killer whale in Kent, moving the charity towards becoming a cetacean rescue response team.
  • 1996: A rescue team and Rigid Inflatable Boat are dispatched to Pembrokeshire, Wales, to assist with the recovery of oiled wildlife casualties following the Sea Empress grounding.
  • 1997: BDMLR creates and runs the first Marine Mammal Medic course held in the UK, and begins forming its national volunteer rescue response network.
  • 1999: A minke whale live stranded in Cornwall becomes the first successful rescue of a cetacean in the UK using the inflatable pontoon rescue system developed by Project Jonah in New Zealand.
  • 2002: A second PDV epidemic sweeps across the North Sea, with thousands of seals dying as a result of secondary infections. BDMLR Medics carry out coastal patrols and help bring infected seals to rehabilitation centres for veterinary care.
  • 2003: Senior BDMLR instructors are sent to the Falkland Islands to run a Marine Mammal Medic course there to help set up their first marine mammal rescue team.
  • 2006: A northern bottlenose whale strands alive in central London and is watched on live television throughout the day by over 500 million people as BDMLR and other agencies launch a rescue operation. The animal died naturally, shortly after the veterinary decision was made to put it to sleep due to its poor health.
  • 2006: Just a week after the Thames whale incident, a bottlenose dolphin known as ‘Marra’ had become trapped in a marina in Maryport, Cumbria, and had to be physically removed in a major operation that made national news headlines. The operation, also involving the Coastguard and RNLI, was successful.
  • 2006: BDMLR’s Chairman and founder, Alan Knight, is awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list in recognition for his services to animal welfare.
  • 2007: BDMLR Medics help recover oiled wildlife casualties from the Napoli shipwreck in Dorset.
  • 2008: The largest common dolphin mass stranding on record in the UK occurs in Cornwall. BDMLR leads a huge rescue operation with emergency services across five separate locations. 24 dolphins were already dead when discovered while 2 more had to be euthanased, however over 70 dolphins are successfully taken back out to sea.
  • 2011: The first of several major pilot whale mass strandings occur across Scotland between now and 2015, after a long period without any incidents. The largest of these strandings involves over 70 animals.
  • 2013: BDMLR sets up the UK’s first and only specialised Large Whale Disentanglement Team to rescue entangled whales at sea.
  • 2013: Medics from across Devon and Cornwall rescue wildlife casualties in two separate pollution incidents involving the chemical polyisobutane (PIB) on the south coast. The chemical is later banned from at-sea discharge by the International Maritime Organisation thanks to a petition set up by a BDMLR Medic that gathered tens of thousands of signatures.
  • 2015: BDMLR and the Born Free Foundation reunite to undertake a new mission called Back To The Blue to rehabilitate and release two captive bottlenose dolphins back to the wild in Turkey.
  • 2015: Members of the BDMLR Large Whale Disentanglement Team join forces with the International Fund for Animal Welfare in the USA to successfully disentangle a humpback whale in Flaxafoi Bay, Iceland.
  • 2016: BDMLR begins a series of training sessions in Kazakhstan in conjunction with Tengizchevroil and the Institute of Hydrobiology to create a new rescue team for Caspian seals and sturgeon in the Caspian Sea.
  • 2017: With funding from the Seal Protection Action Group, BDMLR designs and creates the UK’s first Mobile Seal Rescue Unit – a horse box converted and customised into a fully equipped temporary holding and treatment facility. Its first deployment is to Northumberland, where 11 seals are admitted over the first few months.
  • 2017: Callouts to the BDMLR hotline surpasses 1000 for the first time in a single year.
  • 2017: Storm Brian and ex-hurricane Ophelia strike South West England and Wales within a week of each other at the peak of the grey seal pupping season, with some sites reporting losses of over 70% of their pups overnight. BDMLR Medics and the RSPCA officers struggle to cope in the aftermath as huge numbers of casualties wash ashore.
  • 2018: A series of severe Atlantic storms likely exacerbated by climate change hit the coasts of South West England and Wales during the first few weeks of the year. This leads to an unprecedented number of callouts across the region that became known as the ‘seal crisis’ and gained international media attention as BDMLR and other organisations desperately fought to keep on top of the situation.
  • 2018: BDMLR staff member Dan Jarvis is awarded the Mandy McMath Conservation Award at the annual conference of the European Cetacean Society, becoming the youngest ever recipient as well as the first to receive it primarily for working with seals and in the field of animal welfare.
  • 2019: The Government of Gibraltar’s Department for Environment, Heritage and Climate Change hosts BDMLR instructors to train their first cetacean rescue team.
  • 2020: Callouts to the BDMLR hotline surpasses 2000 for the first time in a single year, just three years after the 1000 milestone was reached.
  • 2021: BDMLR opens its first custom-built seal hospital in Cornwall, to help cope with high influxes of seal casualties affected by storms linked with climate change.
  • 2021: BDMLR staff visit colleagues at the University of Padova, Italy, to run a cetacean rescue training course for students and members of the Cetacean Emergency Response Team.
  • 2021: Storm Arwen devastates grey seal pupping sites in the north and east of the UK, with some sites losing several hundred pups overnight. BDMLR Medics and our rehabilitation centre partners struggle to deal with the aftermath. Four pups are even flown to the new BDMLR seal hospital thanks to the Civil Air Patrol.