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Sunday, 9 April, 2000, 10:47 GMT 11:47 UK
Dolphin colony could 'starve to death'
Bottlenose dolphin
The dolphins in the MOray Firth could be under threat
A leading naturalist has warned Scotland's only resident colony of bottle-nosed dolphins could starve to death in the Moray Firth.

He also claimed the world's most northerly pod of the dolphins might disappear from the Highland coastline in less than 50 years unless steps are taken to help them.

Tony Archer, of the Moray Firth Wildlife Centre in Spey Bay, in Moray, said the 129-strong-group is steadily shrinking due to pollution, human interference from boats and a lack of fish.

But it is the poor availability of food which is particularly worrying conservationists.

Mr Archer said: "This colony seems to be disappearing steadily year by year, at a rate of about 6% per annum.

"There are a number of contributing factors. The popular belief is that pollution is causing the population decrease, but we now believe it is due to the lack of food available in the Moray Firth."

As female dolphins die the chances of a population resurgence diminish.

More research into dolphins has been called for
It is also feared that of dolphins are under threat then other mammals like whales could also be at risk.

Mr Archer said: "The only way forward is for experts to investigate what is going wrong.

"We need to be able to eliminate any possible threats. For example we think that dolphins get caught in nets being set illegally in the sea by salmon poachers."

The dolphin colony is a popular tourist attraction in the Moray Firth area and is thought to contribute substantially to the local economy.

Boats carrying sightseers operate from a number of ports, including Inverness, Cromarty and Nairn.

Mr Archer said he the noise of boats' engines disrupts essential sound communication between mothers and their calves.

The animals do not seem worried by the vessels, but Mr Archer says any communication breakdown between adults and their offspring can lead to the calves becoming confused and damaged by the propellers of any circulating leisure boats.

The Moray Firth pod lives in colder waters than any others, as this is the most northerly colony on Earth.

Britain's only other resident dolphins live in the water of Cardigan Bay, off West Wales, although they are visitors to inshore waters round several parts of the British Isles.

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