Dolphins harassed by pleasure boats

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Owners of high-speed pleasure craft are increasingly harassing dolphins and other marine life around Britain's coasts, the Wildlife Trusts warned yesterday.

Owners of high-speed pleasure craft are increasingly harassing dolphins and other marine life around Britain's coasts, the Wildlife Trusts warned yesterday.

The animals, sometimes encircled by up to 25 craft at a time, including speedboats and jet-skis, are displaying signs of serious stress. Conservationists believe the harassment may be affecting their ability to breed, and causing a drop in numbers.

This summer several instances have been reported of dolphins and basking sharks being rammed by high-speed pleasure craft off the coasts of the West Country, with other incidents of harassment noted in Wales and Scotland.

The Government should now bring in a national code of conduct for pleasure craft owners, say the trusts, to replace the many local voluntary codes, and crack down on people who violate it. They are also looking to the Countryside Bill currently going through Parliament to strengthen the protection of marine animals.

The trusts say that there has been a drastic increase over the past few years in the number of high-speed pleasure craft, which can be capable of speeds of 50 knots. Private boat owners are often drawn towards dolphins, whales and basking sharks. Many try for close encounters, maintain normal or even excessive speeds and try to follow the animals.

"Harassing marine animals is placing extra stress on species which are already struggling for survival," said Joan Edwards, the Wildlife Trusts' marine policy manager.

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