WHALES, DOLPHINS AND PORPOISES (CETACEANS)

J.E. Loveridge and R. Dennis

Twenty-five species of cetaceans are found in British waters. A twenty-sixth, the Bowhead Whale Balaena mysticetus, is no longer found in British waters but “was not infrequently included in the catch” (Fraser, 1974) when whaling companies operated in the Hebrides prior to 1913.

All cetacean species are given protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985. They are listed on Annex IV (Animal and Plant Species of Community Interest in Need of Strict Protection) of the EC Habitats Directive. All whales are listed on Annex A of EU Council Regulation 338/97 and therefore treated by the EU as if they are on CITES Appendix I, thus prohibiting their commercial trade.

An Agreement on the Conservation of Small Cetaceans in the Baltic and North Seas (ASCOBANS), formulated in 1992, has now been signed by seven European countries, including the UK (UK Biodiversity Group, 1999).

This report comprises records of cetacean species from around the coasts of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. Sightings data recorded up to the end of 2007 are provided, while records of dead stranded animals extend to 30th June 2008 to include the unprecedented event of a mass stranding of Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis in the Percuil River, near Falmouth.

Stranded Cetaceans

Sixteen different species of cetaceans have stranded on the shores of Cornwall since 1913, the year in which the Natural History Museum began its official recording scheme for stranded cetaceans. All are protected species in British seas.

Records prior to 1913 are not included in this report, apart from the spectacular stranding of some 50 Pilot Whales at Penzance in 1911. Sources are the official reports on stranded Cetacea (Harmer, 1914, 1915, 1916, 1917, 1918, 1919, 1921, 1923, 1925, 1927; Fraser, 1934, 1946, 1953, 1974; Sheldrick, 1989); the Natural History Museum’s Marine Biological Services Division; The National Stranded Whale Recording Scheme, run jointly by the Natural History Museum and the Institute of Zoology since 1990; those reported to and collated by the Cornish Biological Records Unit and, more recently, those reported to and recorded by the Cornwall Wildlife Trust’s Marine Strandings Network – a team of trained volunteers located throughout Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

The year in which strandings were recorded is listed, followed by the number (in parenthesis) of occurrences in each year.

Cetacean sightings

Seventeen cetacean species have been sighted in the region since 1994. Sightings of various species were recorded until 1999 by Cornwall Wildlife Trust’s Dolphin Watch Group. Detailed observations were made on the resident group of Bottlenose Dolphin by the Trust and an observer sponsored by the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society. Since 1999, sightings have been reported to Ray Dennis, who collates and records the data on behalf of the Cornwall Wildlife Trust.

The year in which sightings of each species were recorded is listed, followed by the number (in parenthesis) of occurrences in each year. In the case of the more frequently sighted species, the number of occurrences have not been cited.

Numerous strandings cannot be identified to species due to lack of data or decomposition. These are not included here.

1. Whalebone (Toothless) Whales

Megaptera novaeangliae Humpback Whale

Balaenoptera physalus Common Rorqual or Fin Whale

Balaenoptera acutorostrata Minke Whale

Balaenoptera borealis Sei Whale

2. Toothed whales

Physeter macrocephalus Sperm Whale

Hyperoodon ampullatus Northern Bottlenose Whale

Ziphius cavirostris Cuvier’s Beaked Whale

Mesoplodon bidens Sowerby’s Beaked Whale

Globicephala melas Long-finned Pilot Whale

Grampus griseus Risso’s Dolphin

Orcinus orca Killer Whale or Grampus

Phocoena phocoena Harbour Porpoise

Tursiops truncatus Bottlenose Dolphin

Lagenorhynchus albirostris White-beaked Dolphin

Lagenorhynchus acutus Atlantic White-sided Dolphin

Delphinus delphis Short-beaked Common Dolphin

Stenella coeruleoalba Striped Dolphin