As summer settles in and leisure and speed boats are launched around the coast, a national marine research and conservation charity is calling for further monitoring of bottlenose dolphins and other marine mammals in high vessel traffic areas.
Long term monitoring research of the bottlenose dolphin population by the Sea Watch Foundation shows that the number of dolphins inhabiting Cardigan Bay is relatively stable. However, recent findings presented by the Sea Watch Foundation to the European Cetacean Society (ECS), shows that even in areas where there is already some protection for bottlenose dolphins, high numbers of motorised boats may be causing changes in behaviours.
Sea Watch Director Dr Peter Evans says: “Our findings, based on extensive studies in Cardigan Bay in West Wales, suggest that even where there are strict codes of conduct to protect dolphin from boats approaching too close or too fast, the sheer numbers of boats on the waters is affecting the dolphins’ social structures, and this is likely to be replicated in other areas around the coast visited by dolphins. Current protection in the two Special Areas of Conservation (SACs ) in the Bay do not address numbers or density of boats.”
They have also noted that where boat numbers are high, bottlenose dolphins are tending to clump together, change their social bonds and alter the way they communicate acoustically with one another.
Dr Evans said: “Bottlenose dolphins form strong social bonds and we do not know what impact disruption of these bonds might have in the future for the stability of local populations.”
The charity has also recorded what may be an extension of the Cardigan Bay dolphins’ traditional summer range northwards and out of the Bay and are calling for further protection for the species in those areas.
While operators of commercial boat tours are abiding by local Codes of Conduct with many specifically trained -with WiSe accreditation – to respect marine wildlife, it is the increase in leisure boats in recent years that is concerning Sea Watch. Since the SAC in Cardigan Bay was established in 2004 that number has increased .