Welfare advice issued to keep social dolphin from harm

Marine conservation charities British Divers Marine Life Rescue, Marine Connection and The Seal Project are advising people to act with caution around Devon’s latest unusual visitor. A lone bottlenose dolphin has turned up in the Torbay area recently and has regularly attracted attention by appearing close to passing boats.

This animal is known to the groups as a ‘social solitary’ dolphin, a highly unusual circumstance where an individual chooses to interact primarily with people and watercraft over living with other dolphins. They often display behaviours such as following boats, spending time inside harbours and even coming amongst swimmers, which can understandably elicit a lot of excitement from observers, but leaves them very vulnerable to disturbance, anti-social behaviour and boat strike. Sadly two recent dolphins of a similar nature, ‘Danny’ in Dorset and ‘Nick’ in Cornwall, were both killed as a result of being hit by boat propellors in the last three years.

The dolphin in the Torbay area is already known to the groups, having originally been identified in the Moray Firth, Scotland, as a male calf known as ‘Whippersnapper’, while his mother was known as ‘Honey’. A few years ago the pair migrated to Dorset where they became known locally as ‘Will’ and ‘Harry’, however a few weeks ago they separated, with Whippersnapper arriving in Torbay and beginning to exhibit behavioural traits associated with social solitary dolphins.

BDMLR’s Director of Welfare and Conservation Dan Jarvis said “We’re very concerned with Easter coming up that there will be a huge increase in activity on the water, particularly from people who do not know how to act appropriately around wildlife. Our priority is to work to keep this animal safe from poor behaviour and harm similar to what we have sadly experienced in the past with this type of animal and their unique behaviour.”

“We are communicating with key contacts in the area such as harbourmasters, MDL Marinas, boat trip operators, the RNLI and others to advise them of this situation and are extending that advice publicly to try to keep both people and the animal safe” he added.

Marine Connection Co-Founder Liz Sandeman commented “Sadly, the more dolphins become habituated through prolonged human contact and behaviours develop, the greater the potential for accidents and injury to both the dolphin and members of the public to occur. Dolphins are powerful marine mammals and have been known to, albeit unintentionally at times, seriously injure people when thrashing their tail or even butting them with their rostrum. As the spring/summer holiday season approaches and the number of people visiting the area increases, it is vital that guidelines are closely followed to ensure the welfare of the dolphin which itself can become injured during interactions, sometimes fatally.”

Sarah Greenslade from The Seal Project added “We’ve been helping to monitor this dolphin since he arrived, gathering photos and videos to help monitor his health and progression of his behaviour. Initially he seemed subdued, but recently seems to be getting more active and energetic”

The three charities are working together alongside the Marine Management Organisation and Devon and Cornwall Police to raise awareness of the unique situation around this dolphin, and the wider issue of marine wildlife disturbance as part of a major national initiative called Operation Seabird. Dolphins are protected from disturbance under the Countryside and Wildlife Act 1981. Anyone who encounters the dolphin needs to act with caution and follow advice, including:

– To not purposely go into the water/approach to interact with it
– To not attempt to feed it
– To keep boats moving at a steady course and speed, or stationary
– To avoid any chasing and fast manoeuvres
– To avoid surrounding it

Photos: Sarah Greenslade