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Dead bottlenose dolphins seen close to fishing vessels in Bay of Biscay


2 dead bottlenose dolphins seen near large fishing fleet off Spanish coast prompting fears that they were likely to have been incidentally caught in the fishing nets.

From the P&O Cruise Ferry, the Pride Of Bilbao, The Biscay Dolphin Research Programme (BDRP) has gathered a great deal of data on the distribution and abundance of whales & dolphins (collectively known as cetaceans) in the European Atlantic. This unique year round database has demonstrated the importance of this area as a feeding and breeding ground for many different species with more than a quarter of all cetacean species being recorded in the area.

On a recent crossing of the Bay of Biscay in April 2005, not far from the port of Santurtzi on the Northern Spanish coast, Clive Martin, BDRP Director and the Senior Wildlife Officer on board the Pride of Bilbao, observed a huge fishing fleet of Spanish vessels. On closer inspection, Clive could see bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) amongst the fishing fleet together with associated long finned pilot whales (Globicephala melanea).

Clive Martin, BDRP Director and Senior Wildlife Officer said: “Bottlenose dolphins are often observed in Biscay interacting with pilot whales and vessels. They are often seen from the Pride of Bilbao coming into bow ride”

As Clive scanned the scene, a disheartening sight met his eyes, 2 dead bottlenose dolphins, which appeared very fresh. The proximity of the dolphins to the fishing vessels prompted fears that they were likely to have been incidentally caught in the fishing nets, leading to their premature death.

This is of considerable conservation concern, because the bottlenose dolphin is one of the most threatened cetacean species in Europe, and consequently has extensive legislative protection at a European level. It is listed on Appendix II of CITES, Appendix II of the Bern Convention and Annexes II and IV of the EC Habitats Directive. It is also on Appendix 2 of the Bonn Convention and is covered by ASCOBANS.

Evidence from the Biscay Dolphin Research Programmes extensive database of cetacean sightings in the European Atlantic indicates that the Bay of Biscay is of high significance in European terms for the Bottlenose Dolphin. To put the importance of the region in to context, for example, single groups have been recorded in Biscay, which may exceed the whole coastal British population!

Not only does BDRP’s unique dataset help to highlight the importance of Biscay for threatened species, but also to define key threats to cetaceans in the European Atlantic, such as the risk of incidental catch in fishing gear.

Over recent years, the numbers of bottlenose and other dolphins accidentally caught in fishing gear, (known as by-catch), has been highlighted as a significant threat to the future survival of these marine mammals.

For example, in recent years, a large number of dead short beaked common dolphins (Delphinus delphis) have been washed ashore along the south west coast of the UK, especially during the winter months, causing a public outcry. These deaths have been associated with winter fisheries, especially for Sea Bass. BDRP has annually recorded a large immigration of these dolphins moving into the Western Approaches to the U.K, co-inciding with the winter fisheries and highlighting the dolphins’ vulnerability to bycatch.

The increasing concern over these deaths lead to the fisheries minister, Ben Bradshaw, announcing that the UK government would be banning bass pair trawling within the U.K. territorial waters out to 12 miles with effect from December 2004 (see news release at Though welcome, this legislation will do little to protect dolphins away from the UK coastal waters.

BDRP is one of the only organisations in Europe carrying out year round dolphin surveys in offshore pelagic waters far from the coast, where dolphins are just as likely to be at risk from fishing activity, but where bycatch is much more likely to go un-noticed and unrecorded. BDRP urges that further legislation be brought into force to protect dolphins from pelagic fisheries.

For further information on the Biscay Dolphin Research Programme (BDRP) please contact Adrian Shephard, Public Relations & Publicity Officer at

Adrian Shephard | alfa
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