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07 October 2011 

Cornwall Wildlife Trust's Marine Strandings Network (MSN) has now published its report for 2010. The report shows that despite huge pressures, Cornwall remains a hot spot for numerous marine species, including whales, dolphins and seals. Studying these animals is revealing a wealth of knowledge about their lives and the threats they face day-by-day, which often lead to their demise.

Over the twelve month period, the MSN examined and recorded 58 stranded cetaceans (dolphins, whales and porpoises), the lowest number in Cornwall since 1997. Unusually, they included a humpback whale – the first for the county – a rare white-beaked dolphin and a fin whale. 87 grey seals, and two blue sharks were also recorded and numerous other marine species were added to the MSN’s expansive database, which holds a vast amount of information going back many years.

Volunteers examine a common dolphin on the Lizard. Photo: Jeff Loveridge

Cornwall Wildlife Trust, which protects wildlife both on land and in our seas and has 14,000 members and 85 Business Members, believes that wildlife is a major draw for visitors. Because of this, efforts to protect marine habitats and animals are vital for the county,

Ruth Williams, Marine Conservation Manager for Cornwall Wildlife Trust says, "Conserving sealife and the broader marine environment is important not only for our fishing industry, but also for tourism and for those of us lucky enough to live here."

Jan Loveridge, Co-ordinator of the Marine Strandings Network says, "One of the ways we can research the health of the seas around us is to monitor stranded marine animals. That's why the public, who report them to us, play such a vital role. Last year we received over 1000 calls to our Hotline telling us about stranded animals. All of them were responded to by one of our trained team and were examined, photographed and recorded."

Jan continues, "We retrieved 15 freshly dead dolphins and porpoises for post-mortem examination by pathologists at the Animal Health Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA), Polwhele in Truro, under the Defra-funded Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP). They can often determine what caused the animals' death and run tests to check for such things as heavy metals, parasites and diseases. Discovering what bacteria and viruses these animals are carrying is a crucial part of this research, particularly as some of these diseases can affect us too. However, the recent announcement that this vital service will end in Cornwall with the closure of the Laboratory facilities at Polwhele has caused great concern among local conservation organisations. Although post-mortems examinations will apparently continue, when the laboratory closes we will only see half the picture. This will be a massive blow to marine mammal research both nationally and internationally."

Among the findings during 2010, were that five of the harbour porpoises examined had been attacked by bottlenose dolphins, a species that is generally regarded as playful and friendly.

Ruth adds, "Regrettably, accidental entrapment of cetaceans in fishing nets is still a cause for great concern, and once again bycatch was found to pose a real threat to dolphins and porpoises around Cornwall. Our ongoing research into strandings is a large element of Cornwall Wildlife Trust’s Living Seas programme and we continue to work with local fishermen and other organisations to explore how we can find solutions together to protect marine wildlife for the future."

During 2010 there were also recordings of 87 grey seals, comprising 35 pups and 52 adults/juveniles. This is the highest annual total recorded to date and mortalities peaked between September and November. Sadly entanglement, particularly in monofilament fishing net, was again identified as a serious animal health and welfare issue.

There were no basking sharks or turtles reported stranded during 2010, but other species found included two blue sharks, 81 trigger fish, numerous By-the-wind sailors and goose barnacles and the beautiful and rarely seen violet sea snail.

The Trust's Marine Strandings Network is funded by SITA and the Cornish children's organic clothing company Frugi, through the 1% For the Planet scheme. This support has enabled the Network to expand its remit and train more volunteers throughout the county.

The 2010 report is available for download on the Publications page. The team welcomes reports on any stranded marine animals, which can help to tell us more about our marine environment and the fascinating lives of the animals that live in it. Strandings can be reported at any time to the MSN Hotline on 0845 201 2626.

 

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