Leading wildlife groups are warning that dolphins are being massacred in British waters – after half as many died in the past two months as during the whole of last year.
In the first eight weeks of the year, a total of 106 dolphins and porpoises have washed up on Cornwall’s beaches and in fishing boat nets, the Cornwall Wildlife Trust said.
The figure is already more than half of the 205 that died last year – and even more than in the previous two years, when the number had been less than 100.
Large trawlers are being blamed for the increase – with activists claiming that trawlers often compete with dolphins for fish, causing them to become caught in nets and suffocated.
Lindy Hingley, founder of Brixham Sea Watch, said: ‘It’s murder. It’s a massacre. It takes 20 minutes for them to die and it’s an appalling death.’
Since December, small trawlers operating in Cornwall and Plymouth have hauled dozens of dead and rotting dolphins to the shore.
Martin Thomas, a trawlerman based in Polperro said: ‘All the boats around here have been bringing up dead dolphins. We have all towed up the odd dead dolphin in the past and talked about it in the pub. But now it’s not a rare occurrence.’
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A Marine Management Organisation spokesman said: ‘We’re aware of local fishermen’s concerns and have been working with other organisations to look into these.’
Rob Deaville, UK project manager of the Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme, says that he was aware of 76 dead dolphins in January.
From the 13 taken for post-mortem examinations, five showed signs of being caught in nets.