UK hotspots for sharks, dolphins and whales ‘need legal protection’

Source: The Guardian

White-beaked dolphins are among the 29 species of cetaceans and sharks that inhabit UK waters. Photograph: The Wildlife Trusts

The threat to dolphins, porpoises, whales and sharks from boat tours, windfarm construction and fishing nets around British shores has prompted conservationists to call for legal protections of hotspots to preserve such ‘marine megafauna’.

The Wildlife Trusts identified 17 hotspots of wildlife, from harbour porpoises in Cardigan Bay on the west coast to white-beaked dolphins on the east at Dogger Bank, where the 29 species of cetaceans and sharks that inhabit UK waters are most commonly found.

This summer, killer whales were spotted off Cornwall and Northumberland, and basking sharks, the second largest fish in the world, are regularly spotted off the Lizard peninsula in the south-west. In the Farne Islands off Northumberland, orca and sperm whales have been spotted in recent years and white-beaked dolphins and humpback whales spend long periods in the waters.

But the trusts, whose membership numbers nearly a million, said such megafauna is at risk from a rise in wildlife-watching boats and energy development.

“We do have a bit of a problem with the fact you get quite a number of boat users who don’t understand that you shouldn’t drive close to them, you shouldn’t chase them,” said Joan Edwards, the trusts’ marine expert. “One of reasons we want these areas protected is so we have a way of explaining to people they can carry out their activities without harming the animals.”

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