Just one week after the unveiling of a memorial to Danny the dolphin by conservation organisation Marine Connection, highlighting the dangers posed by humans to cetaceans who separate from their pods, another 'solitary social' bottlenose dolphin named 'Nick' has been found dead on the southern coast of the Republic of Ireland.
The lone dolphin, known as 'Nick', was first identified in the Isles of Scilly, off the south-west coast of the UK in June 2020, and later sighted in County Waterford and County Wexford in Ireland between April and July 2021, before returning to Scilly and making occasional trips to Cornwall during August of this year. During this time, he was spotted interacting closely with boats and swimmers and had been reported several times to rescue organisations due to a healed scar on his beak being misidentified as plastic entanglement.
On 22 August, Nick was filmed interacting 'boisterously' with swimmers in Hayle Harbour, Cornwall, UK but sadly, this sighting would be the last time Nick was seen alive. On 12 September, a bottlenose dolphin carcass was reported to the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group’s (IDWG) Strandings Scheme from Roaches Point in Cork Harbour, Ireland. Frances Gallagher, a Stranding Network Volunteer who visited the location to take images of the carcass, confirmed that it was an adult male measuring 2.6m and in good nutritional condition.
Marine Connection co-founder Liz Sandeman (L) and the memorial's designers (R) in front of Danny's memorial (Photo Liz Sandeman)
According to IWDG Strandings Officers Stephanie Levesque and IWDG researcher Mags Daly, who analysed the images, the dolphin had suffered from 'multiple, deep lacerations on the carcass located on the dorsal surface of the tail stock and tail flukes', injuries that are consistent with propellor damage. 'Had the injuries occurred post mortem,' said Levesque and Daly, 'they would likely have been located on the underside of the carcass, rather than the top of the tail stock.'
The photographs also provided the evidence needed to confirm that this was indeed the solitary dolphin known as Nick due to the distinctive scar on his beak, and other unique markings on his dorsal fin.
It is uncertain why ‘social solitary’ dolphins and other cetaceans leave the family pods in which they are born, but as a result, the individual animals appear to choose to interact with people and watercraft over other dolphins. They often display behaviours such as following boats, spending time inside harbours, and even coming amongst swimmers. Although this can elicit a great deal of excitement among observers, the IWDG, along with Marine Connection and the British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR), are keen to spotlight the danger into which the dolphins are unwittingly placing themselves.
Liz Sandeman, who leads the Marine Connection’s social solitary dolphin project said: 'We urge the public to follow strict guidelines when in an area that a solitary/social dolphin is known to frequent. People should not to attempt to interact with the marine mammal, as this causes habituation and as we have stressed repeatedly in this type of situation, causes the dolphin to lose its’ natural wariness around humans and boat traffic and often, as in this case, leads to its demise.;
Dan Jarvis, BDMLR area coordinator for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly added: ’Nick’s death so soon after he became prolific a few short weeks ago just goes to show that there is still a lot of work to be done in raising awareness to the public of how to act around wildlife.
'Although he will inevitably become just another statistic and case study, we can at least use what has happened to him right now to help get more people to understand why it is important that they listen to the continual messaging organisations like ourselves put out for following a proper code of conduct for wildlife interactions and stop this happening repeatedly, leaving us to pick up the pieces.'
To learn more about the dangers faced by solitary cetaceans, and how to help prevent them, visit www.marineconnection.org.