Researchers are calling for help from people in South and West Dorset to monitor what is believed to be Britain’s smallest population of coastal bottlenose dolphins.
Sailors, fishers and anyone else who spends a lot of time at sea are being urged to feed information about dolphin sightings to the South Coast Bottlenose Consortium, a partnership of conservation groups, universities, businesses and governing bodies.
The consortium was formed last year to monitor a pod of around 40 dolphins that has been spotted all along Britain’s southern coastline, from the north shores of Devon and Cornwall to the beaches of East Sussex.
The consortium said they are calling for the public’s help to try and build a ‘comprehensive pattern’ of where the dolphins travel at different times of the year and whether particular factors, like human activity or environmental conditions, influence their movements.
A consortium spokesperson said the length of the dolphins’ coastal range and the small size of the pod makes it ‘incredibly difficult’ for marine conservation experts to track them in detail.
Researchers are particularly keen to learn if the dolphins have preferred breeding grounds, or any other reproductive patterns, because the pod has not ‘significantly grown’ in size since it was first identified in the 1990s.
Freya Diamond, an MSc Marine Conservation student at the University of Plymouth who will be analysing public sightings, said: “Despite them having been identified a number of years ago, we still know very little about them.
“That means we are not in the best position to fully understand the challenges they are facing and how we can support these dolphins in the future.
“This project will hopefully provide us with the critical information we need to plug some of those knowledge gaps.”
Bottlenose dolphins are grey, not patterned, and measure two to four metres long. Anyone seeing the pod is urged to note the precise time, date and location.
Abby Crosby, marine conservation officer at the Cornwall Wildlife Trust, said: “This research is essential to provide evidence to support the conservation action needed to protect these special animals. Without this information and better protection there is a very real chance they will die out and never return to our shores, and to lose them would be a tragedy.”
Anyone photographing the dolphins is encouraged to take ‘clear, straight-on’ shots of their dorsal fins because individuals can be identified by their markings.
Harrassing dolphins is an offence and observers are urged not to get too close.
Report your sightings by emailing scbottlenose email@example.com or via the South Coast Bottlenose Dolphin Consortium Facebook page.