The Royal Yachting Association (RYA) has responded robustly to allegations of dolphin-chasing - soon to be prohibited by law

The RYA has dismissed as ‘innocent and unexpected encounters’ incidents that have prompted a wildlife charity to allege ‘deliberate harassment’ of dolphins by yachtsmen. A spokesman added the allegations were ‘disturbing’ as most yachtsmen were inherently conservationist.

On Radio 4’s agenda-setting Today programme, a spokesman for the Devon Wildlife Trust (DWT) claimed that yachtsmen had been seen chasing, and thereby harassing, marine wildlife, including whales, dolphins and seals. This ugly practice, largely restricted in the past to jet bikers and sportsboats, has led to local bylaws prohibiting access to fast, manoeuvrable motorised vessels.

Jon Challis, spokesman for the RYA, said “Dolphins and whales are by their nature inquisitive animals and seem to enjoy the company of boats and are often to be seen riding on the boats bow wave. The RYA is concerned that these innocent and unexpected encounters will be misinterpreted under the new countryside legislation.

Challis went on to add that the RYA has issued guidelines on procedures to deal with nearby whales. They have also worked, and continue to work, with bodies such as the World Wildlife Fund and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS), gathering information on whale and dolphin sightings.

In cases where harassment is unambiguously taking place, Challis said the appropriate authorities – the Police or the RSPCA – should be informed immediately.