Two boat skippers will have to take part in "restorative justice" over the harrassment and killing of a juvenile dolphin off Padstow last summer.
The death of the dolphin hit the headlines nationally after as many as 25 small vessels were seen harassing a pod of Bottlenose dolphins off Daymer Bay and Trebetherick Point for over three hours in July.
Wildlife crime officers in North Cornwall say they have concluded the investigation surrounding the death and two boat skippers have been identified.
A police spokesman said: "The circumstances leading to the death of the dolphin were determined whereby between 1.30 pm and 4.45 pm the pod of inshore bottlenose dolphins were followed by private leisure vessels numbering up to twenty-five at any one time.
"These vessels remained with the dolphins for a varying period of time before leaving whilst other boats joined the flotilla providing a regular turn-over of vessels during the three and one quarter hour period of time.
"Police, with the assistance of the Padstow Harbour Master and staff, secured evidence in the form of video footage, photographs and witness statements detailing these events whereby a high number of vessels encircled the pod and remained within twenty yards of them whilst other vessels drove through the pod at speed."
Very soon after, a dead dolphin was found at the scene.
Two skippers of these vessels were identified by police, interviewed and 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.
Investigating officer PC Allerton-Baldwin said, “It is perfectly safe and lawful to view marine wildlife by adopting a few simple measures such as taking up an initial position no less than 200 metres from the animals, maintaining course and speed and being one of no more than three boats present.”
“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.”
The police say that the two skippers were dealt with by way of ‘Restorative Justice’ a scheme whereby once the offence is admitted an undertaking to complete some form of restoration is given, in this case both will complete the Wildlife Safe (WiSe) course which teaches boat users how to view marine wildlife safely, responsibly and within the law.
The offenders’ details are also recorded by police and will be taken into consideration should any future offence be committed.
PC Allerton-Baldwin said, “Legislation exists to protect this wildlife and where evidence of an offence exists the police will investigate. 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.”
British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) have commended the marine and coastal policing team for their diligence and determination in 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.”
Cornwall Wildlife Trust said the police investigation will lead to a greater awareness amongst the public about rare bottlenose dolphins and better protection for these special animals in our Cornish waters, calling it "a great result for marine conservation and marine life in Cornwall".
The trust says that inshore bottlenose dolphins are "rare and special animals living off our coast, being sub species of off shore pods and living entirely within our south west coastal zone".
Adding: "Although more research on the population needs to be done, conservative estimates imply that only eight-12 individuals are left. Therefore even just one loss to this pod will have a dramatic impact on the inshore populations. The sad and avoidable incident happened near Padstow resulting in the tragic death of a young bottlenose dolphin was not only a disaster for the conservation of this rare and special animal, but the death of this young dolphin will have been incredibly traumatic for the mother and the rest of the family in an intelligent species that has very close family ties, very like humans.
To tackle the important issue of marine disturbance, Cornwall’s leading environmental organisations have joined forces to create a Coastal Code Group detailing a much needed Coastal Code of Conduct to help guide the public towards a safer future for our marine and coastal wildlife.
Cornwall Wildlife Trust, RSPB, Cornwall Seal Group, Cornwall Council, National Trust, Marine Stranding Network and the British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR), Devon and Cornwall Police Marine & Coastal Policing Team/ Wildlife Crime Group, the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) and Natural England have set up the Marine Disturbance 24 hour Hotline on 0345 2012626, which enables anyone visiting the coastline to report disturbance incidents.
In addition, the Group have also developed Coastal Code of Conduct web pages (www.cornwallwildlifetrust.org.uk/coastalcode) with information on how to enjoy the coast and yet protect the wildlife that exists there at the same time.
A reward offered in a bid to help bring the perpetrators to justice will be donated to the Cornwall Wildlife Trust Coastal Code Group to "bolster local resources".