First and only such community identified in English waters
Although England’s South-West is regarded as a cetacean hotspot, little was known about the bottlenose dolphins glimpsed off the coast. New research has revealed the region is home to a resident population of bottlenose dolphins, the first and only such community identified in English waters. The study was conducted by Rebecca Dudley, currently pursuing an MRes at the University of Plymouth, who has been analyzing sightings and photographs of dolphins in the region.
From thousands of records, Dudley identified 98 individuals and defined a distinct social group of 28 resident dolphins, present throughout the year in shallow coastal waters around the South West. This discovery could have significant implications for the conservation of these animals, which currently receive no specific protection in their home range.
Additional research required
“This research is proof that we have a resident population and is incredibly exciting. Further work is needed but this is a huge step forward and I am proud of what our partnership between Cornwall Wildlife Trust, scientists and boat operators has achieved”, said Ruth Williams, Marine Conservation Manager at Cornwall Wildlife Trust. “The future of these iconic animals is in our hands and we need to make sure the few we currently have in the South West are given the protection not just to survive, but to thrive.”
As dolphins are wide-ranging, strong evidence is needed to show that an area is important before protection can even be considered. The UK’s two other resident bottlenose dolphin populations (in the Moray Firth, Scotland, and in Cardigan Bay, Wales) have both received protection. Bottlenose dolphins in the South West face several threats, including pollution from plastics and chemicals, injury by fishing nets, and disturbance from recreational activities.