A BABY dolphin has been found dead at a beach on the Lizard after what was a suspected boat strike.

Marine Conservation Officers from Cornwall Wildlife Trust say they are "devastated" by the death of the dolphin near Gunwalloe.

It said it followed a spate of disturbance incidents of dolphins by power boats, jet skis and stand-up paddleboards over the summer months.

The trust is now calling on all water users to consider their actions and behaviour at sea to protect marine life.

On August 14, a baby common dolphin stranded at Gunwalloe was recorded by Cornwall Wildlife Trust’s Marine Stranding Network (MSN).

A post-mortem of the dolphin was carried out by a veterinary pathologist as part of the Cetacean Strandings Investigation Progamme, in which MSN is a partner.

The report was shared with Cornwall Wildlife Trust on Monday (September 14) and determined that the cause of death was head trauma, most likely caused by boat strike.

The death came during a period in which the Trust and the Cornwall Marine and Coastal Code Group – a partnership of organisations tackling the issue of marine wildlife disturbance – was receiving high levels of disturbance reports from the public.

Use of marine vessels such as RIBS, jet skis and stand-up paddleboards near marine life is "harassing and chasing dolphins away from their territory and away from Cornish coastline", the trust said.

Falmouth Packet:

Bottlenose dolphin harassment. Picture: Peter Tinsley, Dorset WT

Abby Crosby, marine conservation officer for Cornwall Wildlife Trust, said: “This baby dolphin represents the very reason we are working so hard in Cornwall to raise people’s awareness of the issue of marine wildlife disturbance by water users.

"It is a devastating result which could have been avoided with more responsible behaviour.”

Harassment can cause distress and make the animal change its natural behaviour.

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In the worst cases it can lead to serious injuries, amputations and eventual death.

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 states that it is an offence to intentionally or recklessly harass any dolphin, porpoise, whale or basking shark.

A conviction carries the maximum sentence of £5,000 and/or six months imprisonment.

Recent amendments to the Wildlife & Countryside Act means that ignorance is no longer deemed a defence.

Falmouth Packet:

Paddleboarders and dolphins off St Ives. Picture: Peter Nason

Abby added: “This is a sad and avoidable incident resulting in the tragic death of a young dolphin. Not only is it a disaster for the conservation of this special animal, but the death of this young dolphin will have been incredibly traumatic for the mother and the rest of the family.

"It is essential that those people who enjoy our Cornish coast and sea familiarise themselves with the codes of conducts available through the Cornwall Marine and Coastal Code Group. If more people follow these guidelines, we can make sure we can still enjoy watching these beautiful animals whilst protecting them at the same time.”

The Marine Disturbance Hotline can be called 24 hours a day, seven days a week on 0345 2012626. The trust wants members of the public to report any instance of disturbance they see, with video or photographs if possible and safe.

The Code of Conduct webpage at www.cornwallmarinelifecode.org.uk explains the issues, how people can help and the best way to watch marine wildlife in a safe and responsible manner.

The trust recommends that all boat owners become accredited through the WiSe (Wildlife Safe) scheme.

WiSe provides training and accreditation for operators of registered passenger and charter vessels who wish to view marine wildlife.

For more information visit www.wisescheme.org.uk