Dolphin conservationists say fall in shipping due to Covid has boosted sightings

Max Stephens
·2-min read
Two dolphins leaping into the air in the Bay of Islands, off New Zealand's Northland coast. - Getty Images Contributor
Two dolphins leaping into the air in the Bay of Islands, off New Zealand's Northland coast. - Getty Images Contributor

A 'super pod' of up to 400 dolphins was spotted off the coast of Cornwall this weekend as conservationists say a fall in commercial shipping during the pandemic has helped boost sightings. 

Marine experts from the Cetacean Research and Rescue Unit (CRRU) have speculated that dolphins will now be more likely to pay a visit to Britain’s shores, owing to less sonar interference from passing ships.   

Research scientist Ciaran Dolan said: “The virus has limited boat movements around waters and potentially has given the dolphins a chance to work back in, closer to coastal waters.”  

Lower levels of noise disturbance from ships’ engines has also possibly contributed to more inland dolphins, he added. 

Sonar is used by cetaceans such as dolphins and whales as a means of navigating underwater.   

Dolphins both emit and receive echoes of sound waves, which have bounced off nearby objects, allowing them to explore their environment three-dimensionally. 

This echolocation tool helps them to hunt in low light and low visibility environments as they can then determine whether an object is a rock formation, another fish or indeed a ship.   

Underwater “white noise” from passing ship’s engines can potentially blur the dolphin's vision as they are receiving ‘clicks’ and sounds which they have not sent out. 

Statistics from conservation charity Sea Watch reveal that in July of this year there were over 1,200 sightings of ten different species of dolphin. 

However, experts have cautioned that any increase in sightings may be attributed to a rise in numbers of furloughed city workers travelling to the coast to catch a sight of the creatures. 

Multiple sightings of the same pod of dolphins can further complicate recorded figures, the CRRU added.   

These findings follow reports from the National Coastwatch at St Ives, Cornwall who claim to have seen pods of between 300 and 400 dolphins off the coast this weekend. 

The dolphins were apparently playing to a gallery of tourist boats a mile out in the bay. 

Observer Neil Harvey from the coastwatch station said :"The water is crystal clear, it's literally been a total mass and the trip boats are loving it.”