This has been a good year for whales and dolphins in Cornwall, but people need to leave the wildlife alone for animal numbers to recover even more, a leading environmental charity has said.
The Wildlife Trusts, the parent organization of the Cornwall Wildlife Trust, said cetaceans (whales, dolphins, butts) took center stage in 2021 with sightings of humpback whales off the Isles of Scilly and orcas just below the Minack Theater.
Large numbers of humpback whales have been spotted in the UK this year. Until recently, sightings were extremely rare, but more than 75 sightings have been recorded since 2019, showing how populations are recovering after commercial whaling was banned. The Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust saw humpback whales feeding around the islands with one individual, named Pi, who stayed for over two months.
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Meanwhile, two orcas named John Coe and Aquarius from the West Coast community, who normally reside off the Hebrides, have been spotted from the clifftop performance hall at the Minack Theater in the summer. It was the southernmost sighting of members of this unique group of killer whales in over 50 years and also the first confirmed record of killer whales in the charity’s database in addition to a decade.
Long-distance travelers have also seen Wally the arctic walrus show off off the north Cornish coast and also in Hugh Town harbor in St Mary’s.
Matt Slater, Marine Conservation Officer for Cornwall Wildlife Trusts, said: “Only a few years ago it would have been extremely rare to see a humpback whale in the UK. But it looks like they are hunting the large schools of sardines that are now present around our coasts. It’s wonderful to see these creatures up close.
However, the charity warned that the number of strandings has unfortunately increased with the tide of human pressure playing its part.
In Cornwall alone, more than 170 cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) and an astonishing 247 seals stranded in 2021, many of which were injured by fishing activities. A humpback whale was found stranded off Looe Island after being caught in fishing lines, while seven gray seals washed up on Mousehole Beach in two days, tied to a spider net from Wed Nearby, the Devon Wildlife Trust reported 51 cetaceans washed up on beaches.
In February, the Cornwall Wildlife Trust reported the stranding of a striped dolphin, which is rarely seen in the UK and more commonly found in the Mediterranean.
In September, a bottlenose dolphin known as Nick, which had been admired by Cornish swimmers, ran aground in Ireland with wounds corresponding to propeller damage while in December the Dorset Wildlife Trust ran aground in Ireland. found a stranded young pygmy sperm whale – only a handful have ever been seen in the UK.
In October, the Cornwall Wildlife Trust reported that a pufferfish had been found on Downderry Beach – the first time it had run aground in 20 years. Pufferfish are oceanic species and rarely come this far north. This extraordinary fish inflates its body to ward off predators.
Matt Slater, Marine Conservation Officer at Cornwall Wildlife Trust, said: “It was an incredible sighting. The ocean pufferfish lives in the open sea and rarely comes this far north. How and why he ended up in Cornwall is a mystery, although it is possible that he was swept away by summer storms.
Daniele Clifford, marine conservation officer for The Wildlife Trusts, said human activities, human disturbance, as well as the effects of climate change, were responsible for many strandings and injuries sustained by marine animals.
Temperature changes can disrupt eating habits and reproductive cycles, the association said.
Daniele added: “Noise at sea caused by wind farms and other developments can confuse wildlife and divert whales and dolphins – we need to think carefully about any marine development going forward.
“In addition, far too many sea creatures are being needlessly killed due to unsustainable fishing practices, with lost and discarded fishing gear also causing havoc – especially for seals, dolphins and other marine mammals.”
Recreational activities are increasingly accused of disturbing animals, with vacationers enjoying activities like SUP or kayaking approaching whales or seals and scaring them which in turn can lead to injury.
The Cornwall Wildlife Trust has reported that disturbances to marine wildlife have tripled since 2014, with increasing numbers of jet skis and motorboats a major concern.
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Lissa Batey, head of marine conservation for Wildlife Trusts, said: “It has been a fantastic year for marine megafauna sightings, especially in the southwest, but it is clear that our oceans are under immense pressure. fishing, development, pollution, climate change and recreation. All of these issues have a huge impact on life at sea.
“The COP26 really made people understand the need to limit the rise in global temperatures to a maximum of 1.5 °. Protecting our marine environment is essential to achieving this goal, as healthy seabed habitats store carbon.
“We need policies that end unsustainable fishing practices and prevent unrestricted development at sea – and we need to protect at least 30% of our oceans by 2030. Future generations count on it.
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