As the weather improves, whales, dolphins, porpoises and other marine mammals are at risk of disturbance as people head to the coast and out to sea.
Whether taking to the sea on boats, jet skis, paddleboards, kayaks or even just walking along the coast, many people do not know that there are laws against the disturbance of cetaceans, and those breaking them could risk fines.
Wildlife charities, including Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), are calling for those spending time at sea over the coming months to ensure that any animals are given space and watched from a distance.
Marine mammals are most vulnerable to disturbance when they are with their young, resting, feeding or socialising. When disturbed, they can be scared away from important habitats, injured or even killed.
"Coming across whales, dolphins, seals, and other marine life can be very exciting," said Lucy Babey, ORCA's Head of Science & Conservation. "However, it's crucial that we remember these are wild animals and therefore need to be treated with respect. In particular, animals with calves should be treated with care. Any disturbance can damage the animal's health and stress it unnecessarily. Watching from afar and limiting your time nearby is always the best advice."
Whilst some disturbance to these animals is accidental, deliberate actions such as jumping in the water to swim with dolphins, feeding or touching them is strongly warned against.
Cetaceans are protected under UK law, and many people do not realise that there are rules to safeguard them, with fines of up to £5000 given to anyone found to be causing deliberate disturbance. Tips for safely watching these animals include:
- Watch from the shore
- Keep dogs on a lead
- Keep a safe distance and avoid getting too close
- Keep calm and quiet
- Avoid anything which may scare or panic animals
- Keep any interaction short – no longer than 15 minutes
- Report incidents of disturbance by calling 101
- Make sudden changes to speed or direction if you're on a boat or jet ski
- Drive between groups on a boat or jet ski
- Chase animals
- Feed the animals
- Swim with or try to touch animals
- Do not approach the animals
You can learn more about how to minimise disturbance to marine mammals and the WDC #Rudetointrude campaign here.