A rare young dolphin was killed off the Cornish coast because of the “reckless” behaviour of the skippers of two tourist boats, police have revealed.
The bottlenose dolphin died when a flotilla of sightseers surrounded a pod in the Camel Estuary near Padstow on July 20 last year.
Wildlife crime officers from the Marine and Coastal Policing Team in North Cornwall have just concluded the investigation surrounding the death of the juvenile animal.
As many as 25 private leisure vessels followed the group of creatures for more than three hours, according to video evidence, photographs and witness statements.
Two skippers of two vessels admitted reckless disturbance of the dolphins, an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 which carries a maximum penalty of six months imprisonment and/or a £5,000 fine.
But the pair were instead dealt with by “restorative justice” and forced to complete a Wildlife Safe (WiSe) course on how to view marine wildlife safely, responsibly and within the law.
Police spokesman PC Allerton-Baldwin said: “Legislation exists to protect this wildlife and where evidence of an offence exists the police will investigate.
“There is no evidence that anybody went out on that day with the intention of contributing to the death of a dolphin.
“On the contrary, the two individuals interviewed clearly acted out of ignorance of the law and whilst that may be the case, ignorance of the law is no defence.”
“However, we also have a responsibility to prevent crime and hope this particular case will serve to raise awareness not only of the legislation but also of the perhaps unforeseen outcome should offences be committed, in this case the death of a rare dolphin in British waters.”
The British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR), which attends strandings and deaths, commended the police for carrying out a full investigation into the killing.
Operations manager Stephen Marsh said: “Whilst we are pleased that the perpetrators of this sad incident have been dealt with, it could have been avoided if all the boaters in the area had stayed well away from the animals and observed them at a safe distance.
“Hopefully the result from the police operation will serve as a reminder to all that wildlife crime is taken seriously and also that disturbance of dolphins is not only illegal, but can have severe consequences.”
Abby Crosby, Marine Conservation Officer for Cornwall Wildlife Trust, said only 8-12 of the rare marine creatures now live off the South West coast.
She added: “We are delighted that the investigation has led to this result.
“Marine disturbance is a serious issue in our coastal waters, therefore it is important that all people using any vessel on the sea familiarise themselves with our marine Code of Conduct and adhere to it to make sure we can still enjoy watching these beautiful animals whilst protecting them at the same time.”
The offenders’ details have been recorded by police and will be taken into consideration should any future offence be committed.