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Environment

England Has Its First Pod of Resident Bottlenose Dolphins

England’s first resident pod of bottlenose dolphins has been identified off the coast near Cornwall, thanks to a monitoring project that took 11 years. 

The find has been described as “incredibly exciting” by the Cornwall Wildlife Trust, which worked on the project alongside the University of Plymouth. 

And campaigners are calling for rules to be put in place to protect the dolphins. 

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“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,” said Ruth Williams, from the Cornwall Wildlife Trust. 

Britain also has two other resident dolphin populations, one in Scotland, in the Moray Firth, and another in Cardigan Bay in Wales. 

The homes of both pods have been granted Marine Protection Area (MPA) status to limit interference from humans, and conservationists want the same protection for the English pod. 

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“This discovery is a further reminder of the importance of UK waters for marine mammals like dolphins and whales,” Alec Taylor, from WWF, told the Telegraph.

“Yet dolphins, along with many other species, are under growing threat from human activities,” he continued. “As well as drowning in fishing nets, their environment is suffering from a deluge of plastic and increasing noise pollution.” 

“There are still gaps in our protections for whales, dolphins, and basking sharks in the UK and it is essential that these are filled as soon as possible, so the waters used by this population of dolphins must become part of our blue belt of environmental protection,” he said. 

Around 1,000 dolphins a year wash up on British and French beaches after getting tangled in fishing equipment. Dolphins in the southwest also face threats from pollution, plastic waste, chemicals, and disturbance from recreational activities. 

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“Highlighting the existence of a resident population is the first step in seeking specific protection for these animals, with the next step being to collect more evidence on their movements and behaviour and strengthen the case for the importance of this area,” said a Cornwall Wildlife Trust spokesperson.

Researcher Rebecca Dudley analysed thousands of sightings and photographs from the south west of England, between 2007 and 2016.

Individual dolphins can be recognised by their dorsal fins — which are as distinctive and unique to each dolphin as a human’s fingerprint.

Dudley was able to identify 98 individual bottlenose dolphins, and among these, a distinct group of 28 that stayed throughout the whole year, mainly sticking to the shallow coastal waters off Cornwall, including St Ives Bay and Mount’s Bay — but occasionally shifting to Devon and Dorset. 

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“A resident pod of dolphins should allow us to create bespoke protection for a defined range for the animals,” said Dr Jean-Luc Solandt, a specialist in Marine Protected Areas for the Marine Conservation Society. 

He said protecting the area would be “really effective,” with strict rules on entanglement, by-catch, and noise restrictions. 

Cornwall is famous as a dolphin-spotting destination, but it was always previously thought the dolphins migrated from the southern Irish Sea to the Bay of Biscay.

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