By Paul Brown – Environment Correspondent, Guardian Unlimited
Conservationists yesterday set up an action plan to save the whales and dolphins which frequent European waters and which are being poisoned, killed in nets, and deliberately harassed by people in fast boats. Despite international agreements, cetacean numbers are continuing to fall and threats to them are growing. The action plan is focused on getting modifications to fishing nets so that whales, dolphins and porpoises can avoid entanglement and drowning. It also aims to stop the oil industry using explosions and seismic echoes in cetaceans’ home waters and to ban the chemicals that accumulate in cetacean body fat causing illness and infertility. At the launch of the campaign yesterday by the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society and Dive magazine, the periodical of the British Sub Aqua Club, Mark Simmonds, WDCS director of science, said:
“Chemical pollution, fishing nets, offshore oil and gas industry, are all substantive threats to marine wildlife.” There are 24 species of dolphins and whales remaining around Britain’s coasts, but since the first WDCS review of these mammals in UK waters, in 1997, their plight has worsened. This year’s report notes that young people on jet skis and powerboats have been herding and even killing dolphins in Torquay, Devon. Under the Countryside Act, a new offence of “reckless harassment” is coming into force. Whales and dolphins are also disturbed by low-frequency sounds emitted by ships to detect submarines and for communication purposes. The noise disrupts their ability to navigate and their “conversations” and can drive them away from their home territory. Manufactured chemicals such as PCBs which stay in body fat, preventing reproduction and causing disease, are now recognised as a serious threat, too. The International Whaling Commission has been investigating the problem. Dead porpoises washed up on beaches show a clear link between body fat pollution and disease. One population of dolphins on the Moray Firth, Scotland, is affected by pollution and expected to die out in the next 50 years. About 2,000 of the once common harbour porpoise are also killed each year in nets. The WDCS wants conservation areas established in Cardigan Bay and Bardsey Island, in Wales, for the mammal, which is now listed as endangered. Helen Brinton, Labour MP for Peterborough, has criticised the Countryside Act for doing little for marine life. Yesterday Graeme Gourlay, Dive magazine’s editor, added that real protection was needed “for the fabulous diversity of cetaceans” or “we’ll be the last generation to enjoy such a natural wonder”.