As the warmer weather arrives, the Marine Management Organisation is urging boat owners to follow best practice when interacting with protected marine animals.
Boat owners and operators of registered passenger and charter vessels are being reminded about the rules and best practice relating to marine animals.
The Marine Management Organisation (MMO) is warning that it is an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 to intentionally and/or recklessly disturb endangered species such as dolphins, porpoises and whales.
Those found guilty of the offence can face a maximum penalty of six months’ imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine.
The government’s MMO is recommending that those wishing to interact with marine animals follow the Wildlife Safe scheme, known as WiSe.
Disturbance by boats often causes stress and harm to dolphins, porpoises and whales.
This affects their ability to feed, breed or nurture their young.
In 2014, two boat skippers were successfully prosecuted by the Devon and Cornwall Police for the reckless disturbance of a pod of dolphins; one of the mammals was found dead in Padstow, Cornwall.
The WiSe scheme is a UK standard for commercial marine wildlife watching.
It includes a code of conduct and sets out best practice for wildlife watching.
The code includes that boats should:
- Stay 100 metres away from the animals
- Avoid groups of mothers and young completely
- Switch engines into neutral if animals actively come over to boats
Marine animals must not be actively pursued when they move away. Where they bow ride alongside vessels, vessels should not increase their speed or change course.
Animals must not be touched as this could be considered an offence.
Sightings of dolphins, porpoise or whales being disturbed can be reported to an MMO office or the local police force wildlife crime officer on 101.
In Cornwall, incidents can also be immediately reported to the Cornwall Wildlife Trust on their 24 hour hotline 0345 201 2626.
If possible, photographs or video footage should also be taken of these concerns. These incidents will then be passed to the relevant enforcement authority.
The MMO is the statutory enforcement body for wildlife legislation that protects marine species in UK waters.
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