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Call for more data on dolphins

Call for more data on dolphins

Monday 28 February 2022

Call for more data on dolphins

Monday 28 February 2022

A local conservation group is calling for more community-driven data following a spate of dead dolphins washed ashore on Guernsey's beaches.

Four dead dolphins have washed ashore this month alone.

They include a rarely seen Risso's dolphin, which washed up on Friday, as reported by Express.

Matt Gill, founder of the Ghost Seas Project, a non-profit organisation, said that a central data hub for recording incidents of dead dolphins was important for the health of local waters.

“We can learn a lot about our seas from dolphins that wash ashore in Guernsey. They are hugely important indicators of the health of our waters,” said Mr Gill. 


Pictured: A pod of dolphins in the Little Russel. Picture credit: Matt Gill. 

Dead dolphins are usually left to wash back to sea to return to the ecosystem. But in some cases, when this is not possible, they are removed by Agriculture, Countryside and Land Management Services (ACLMS), a division of the States' Committee for the Environment & Infrastructure. 

ACLMS will record the cause of death if any is apparent, but does not keep any other record of the animal. 

The GSPCA keeps records of any dolphins that are live and stranded if it is involved in their care, but does not keep a record of reports of deceased dolphins.  

Mr Gill has recorded six dead dolphins washed ashore in Guernsey since November, including a rare Risso's dolphin, which washed ashore at Vazon on Friday.


Pictured: A rare Risso's dolphin, which washed ashore at Vazon on Friday.

“When the public contact me to advise of a dead dolphin, I attend and take photos, take measurements, record the species and make a note of the condition of the carcass as it can be very telling of possible causes of death, although we can’t know for certain,” said Mr Gill.

“For example, sometimes you can see net marks around the dorsal fin. When dolphin carcasses are missing part of their jaw, it is possible that this injury occurred when trying to escape from a net.”


Pictured: Dead dolphins found in November 2021 near the Fairy Ring (left) and in December 2021 at Pecqueries Bay.

Dead dolphins washed ashore in Guernsey in November and December last year with a further three washed ashore in February. 

“Without comprehensive data collection, it is impossible to draw any definitive conclusions about the apparent increase in dead dolphins washed ashore," said Mr Gill.

"But I have suspicions that it may be linked to the changing situation regarding activity in Guernsey territorial waters."


Pictured: Dead dolphins found in February 2022 at Fort Grey (left) and Bulwer Avenue.

DolFin Project coordinator Nicky Harris confirmed that there was one case in 2020 and five in 2021, one of which was live when stranded but did not survive. Ms Harris agreed that it is often impossible to determine an exact cause of death in dolphins washed ashore.

Ms Harris said that often the same carcass is washed ashore multiple times.

“In some cases there may appear to be multiple dead dolphins when, in reality, the same carcass continues to be washed in on each tide,” she said. 

“Dolphins are very fatty animals so their carcasses break down in a weird way that can make them look completely different by the time they next wash ashore.”


Pictured: Dolphins outside St Peter Port Harbour. Picture credit: Matt Gill.

Four carcasses have washed ashore this month - at Bulwer Avenue, Pembroke, Vazon and Fort Grey - and two others this winter. Mr Gill thinks they are different dolphins.

“The six dead dolphins washed ashore since November have been in completely different locations around the island and in some cases are different species of dolphin. Each dolphin has had very different injuries. I am certain they are all separate incidents,” he said.

Mr Gill said he was disappointed by the lack of historic data available. 

“I have 25 years’ open water experience in local waters and I started to notice that I could be out for nearly two hours and not see a single fish in the water,” he said. 

“I started looking into whether there were any detailed records available of our aquatic wildlife and was disappointed that there didn’t appear to be much or, if there is, then it is not easily accessible to the public.

“I founded the Ghost Seas Project to raise awareness of the importance of keeping our local waters healthy. If our waters aren’t’ healthy, then we aren’t healthy because everything links back to the sea. We are lucky to be surrounded by these incredible habitats and we can all be doing more to look after them.”


Pictured: Mr Gill has studied dolphins' behaviour in the Indian Ocean. Picture credit: Matt Gill.

The non-profit conservation group undertakes various data collection projects, including seal spotting.

Mr Gill is encouraging the public to contact him with any sightings of dead or stranded dolphins.

“The more information we can gather from dead dolphins the better. If people can contact me either by phone or the charity’s social media and website and give the location of the sighting, I can then go down and gather as much information as possible," said Mr Gill.

Ms Harris said it was important for all data to be shared between local organisations to ensure collaboration of expertise.

Mr Gill said the data he collects will be made publicly available each month via the Ghost Seas Project's website HERE.

Contact Details

The Ghost Seas Project: 07911 146198

GSPCA: (01481) 257261

ACLMS: (01481) 224567

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