Page last updated at 10:35 GMT, Sunday, 6 July 2008 11:35 UK

Dolphin deaths blamed on fishing

Dolphin caught in fishing net
Marine conservationists would like to see an EU-wide ban on pair trawling

Industrial fishing is largely to blame for the rising number of dead whales, dolphins and porpoises washed up on Cornish beaches, scientists have said.

Researchers from the University of Exeter's Cornwall Campus and Cornwall Wildlife Trust analysed records of strandings from 1911 to 2006.

Since 2000, numbers have ranged from 100 to 250 per year, with Cornwall's south coast experiencing the most.

The findings have been published in the Biodiversity and Conservation journal.

Trawlers' bycatch

The researchers studied 2,257 cases of cetaceans found dead on beaches - 862 of which were common dolphins.

Since 1990, at least 61% of the incidents were confirmed as being caused by fishing, with the creatures accidentally caught up in trawlers' nets as "bycatch".

The findings come just weeks after the mysterious death of 26 apparently healthy dolphins found stranded in a shallow river estuary near Falmouth.

The largest mass stranding ever recorded in Cornwall was 50 long-finned pilot whales off the coast of Penzance in 1911.

Dolphin mass stranding, Cornwall
Scientists do not know what caused the mass stranding

In November 2001, 16 dead common dolphins were spotted floating out at sea just off Looe.

Dr Brendan Godley, from the University of Exeter's Cornwall Campus, said: "Many people were shocked by the recent graphic images of the mass dolphin strandings in Cornwall, the cause of which is still a matter of conjecture.

"We feel the important message is that strandings have increased in recent years and the majority are attributable to bycatch in marine fisheries."

Dr Godley said the issue needed to be addressed by the fishing industry, conservation organisations and the government.

He added that climate change could also be another reason for the increasing number of strandings, with warmer waters attracting more cetaceans to the seas around Cornwall.

Conservation zones

Joana Doyle, marine conservation officer for Cornwall Wildlife Trust, said steps had to be taken to safeguard the future of the cetaceans.

"These include establishing a network of marine conservation zones around our coast to protect the species and the habitats they depend on," she said.

Ms Doyle would like to see agencies working together to develop and test measures which could reduce bycatch.

She also wants to see an EU-wide ban of pair trawling for seabass.

Pair trawling involves two vessels working together dragging a huge net between them.

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