Welfare advice issued to keep social dolphin safe from harm.

Marine conservation charities British Divers Marine Life Rescue, Marine Connection and Cornwall Wildlife Trust are advising people to act with caution around Cornwall’s latest unusual visitor.  A lone bottlenose dolphin has turned up in the area recently and has been frequenting areas near harbours and public beaches around much of the coast on a regular basis.

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.  This particular individual has not been identified from any previously known animals in neighbouring populations, and although it is not currently known whether it is a male or female, has been given the name ‘John’.

BDMLR Area Coordinator Dan Jarvis said “We’ve been following this animal’s movements over the last three months since we noted it was turning up every few days displaying behaviours that we typically associate with social solitaries” he said.  “It has been recorded from Fowey all the way round to Port Isaac so far and is regularly travelling between locations on a daily basis, so we have been gathering photo and video evidence to monitor the progression of its behaviour.  Meanwhile in the background we have already been in touch with key contacts around the coast such as harbourmasters, boat trip operators and RNLI lifeguards to advise them of this situation and are now extending that advice publicly as we get into the main summer season to try to keep people and the animal safe.”

Marine Connection Co-Founder Liz Sandeman comments “Sadly, the more these dolphins become habituated through prolonged human contact and behaviours like this 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.  There is also concern for the welfare of the dolphin which itself can become injured, sometimes fatally.”

Abby Crosby, Marine Conservation Officer at CWT added “Just last year another dolphin exactly like this, known as ‘Nick’, caused a huge stir in Hayle harbour when he approached a large group of children and became so excitable that people had to be asked to leave the water as the situation became dangerous due to his behaviour.  Less than a month later he was found dead in Ireland, having been hit by a boat propellor.  In 2020 the same thing happened to another animal in Dorset that was known as ‘Danny’.  These sadly were just the latest in a shockingly long list of such incidents, which can be avoided if due care is taken and our advice followed.”

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

More information can be found at https://marineconnection.org/social-solitary-cetaceans/

Photos: Josh Wilson.