Washed up whales
Wednesday 14 December 2011
More than 3400 whales, dolphins and porpoises have stranded on UK beaches over the past six years, reveals a new report published today.
The report by the UK Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP) details the investigation of whales, dolphins and porpoises (cetaceans), marine turtles and basking sharks found stranded around the UK coast between 2005 and 2010.
The CSIP has investigated some of the UK’s most high-profile strandings during this time, from the northern bottlenose whale that swam up the Thames in 2006, to the mass stranding of 26 common dolphins in Cornwall in 2008.
The collaborative CSIP, coordinated by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and funded by Defra, Scottish Government and Welsh Government, recorded a decline in the number of reported strandings of harbour porpoises and common dolphins on UK shores, but saw a small increase in strandings of some species like the humpback whale.
CSIP scientists also conducted over 750 post-mortem examinations on stranded animals during the six year period. They discovered that infectious disease, starvation, entanglement in fishing gear (bycatch) and bottlenose dolphin attacks on porpoises were amongst the most common causes of death. Cases of bycatch were still common, but occurred in lower numbers than during the first half of the decade.
Defra and the Devolved Administrations have recently agreed to additional funding for a further three years, allowing the CSIP to continue their investigation of UK strandings- but they can only do so with help from the general public.
“Without the help of the UK public over the last six years, we would not have been able to investigate strandings effectively. However, some strandings are still going unreported in the UK, so we are launching a new campaign to encourage more people to report stranded animals to us, helping build on our understanding of the threats that these charismatic species may face in UK waters.” says Rob Deaville, project manager of the CSIP.
Thousands of illustrated leaflets containing information on how to identify stranded animals will be distributed around the UK coastline and made available online, to help obtain more accurate reports.
The Minister for Environment and Fisheries Richard Benyon said “Whale and dolphin strandings are distressing and we need to understand why they happen and what can be done to prevent them. The UK Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme is carrying out valuable work on whale and dolphin strandings which will help shed more light on this issue so that we can reduce the incidence of strandings in the future."
Public reports of strandings have enabled the CSIP to build up a vast database of information that is shared with scientists across the world. This important resource has helped generate many important discoveries, including the detection of persistently high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) - chemical contaminants - in bottlenose dolphins and killer whales. Despite being banned 30 years ago, PCBs continue to pose a threat to marine top predators.
It is hoped that the new public appeal to report stranded cetaceans, seals, marine turtles and basking sharks will generate more information to feed into the investigations of the CSIP, whose research continues to inform policy both at a national and international level.
Download the CSIP leaflet and help identify and report stranded whales, dolphins and porpoises and contribute to this important research work being done by the CSIP team, coordinated by ZSL.