Scottish dolphins 'at risk from oil drilling'

A A A

The future of Britain's most famous dolphins is at risk from oil and gas exploration, conservationists say.

The bottlenose dolphins of the Moray Firth in Scotland are the best known and most studied dolphins in the UK. They entertain onlookers with their energetic playing and feeding, and are regularly seen near the shore. In 2005 they were given their own sanctuary under European law.

But the Government says it is "likely" to grant a licence for sub-seabed oil and gas exploration in the sanctuary, which means the dolphins will be seriously disturbed, according to the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS). It says that if oil and gas production goes ahead they will face the threats of waste discharge and oil spills.

"The dolphins of the Moray Firth are magnificent and intelligent animals, but they are also incredibly vulnerable. It is unthinkable that the Government should even consider allowing oil and gas into their sanctuary," said Sarah Dolman, who manages the WDCS Moray Firth campaign.

"Oil and gas exploration and development includes intense noise caused by very loud seismic exploration, the placement of rigs and associated pollution and drilling, and finally, in decades to come, the removal of the rigs when the supply is exhausted. Should one licence be allowed, others will surely follow. This means increasing and ongoing disturbance for the dolphins. We do not want this precedent to be set."

She added: "These animals are already facing many threats, including pollution, coastal development, increased boat traffic, food shortage and illegal driftnet fishing. Oil and gas exploration within a habitat vital for their survival could be the straw that breaks the camel's back."

The bottlenose dolphins of the Firth are a small, isolated and vulnerable group – there are only about 130 – which is why a special area of conservation (SAC) under the EU habitats directive was designated in 2005 to protect them in their core habitat. This offers very strong protection under European law.

But seabed exploration blocks in the SAC have been suggested as part of the Government's 24th offshore oil and gas licensing round, when oil companies bid for licences. The Energy minister, Malcolm Wicks, has indicated that they may be granted, after a period of consultation which ends next month.

The Government's argument appears to be that there has been exploration work in the area in the past, which did not seem to harm the dolphins, but conservationists reject this.

"This is a test of whether or not we can have marine wildlife protection", said Mark Simmons, head of science at theWDCS.

"Oil and gas development in an area that has been set specially aside for dolphin protection is entirely inappropriate. I think most people in the world would agree with that." The Moray Firth dolphins are often seen from the shore at Chanonry Point, near Inverness. They survive on a diet of fish.

They animals range from 1.9 metres to four metres long, can weigh up to 650kg, with the dolphins of the Moray Firth being among the largest found anywhere in the world. Each dolphin in the Moray Firth population is individually identifiable by the markings on its dorsal fin. Researchers photograph the animals and later compare the images taken with the catalogue of known dolphins to find out which have been seen, where and with which other dolphins. This builds up a picture of the social structure of the group and also tells us more about the animals' core habitat.

The WDCS wants the public to protest, and is organising an online petition to Mr Wicks in an attempt to halt the development.

A rich variety of rare wildlife

* The Moray Firth is a triangular inlet of the North Sea that cuts into the north-east of Scotland. It is the largest inlet of its type in Scotland and has 500 miles of coastline, much of which is cliff. And given the Firth's rich variety of wildlife (it is an EU special protection area) the coast makes an excellent vantage point for seeing animals rarely seen in or around the UK. Common dolphins, minke whales and harbour porpoises have all been spotted from the shores of the Firth. Yet it is the bottlenose that causes great excitement. With more than 130 of the animals that can measure up to 4m in length in the area, it is not unusual to be able to see them rising from the icy waters. The creatures have earned added fame in recent years as protection groups have offered the public the chance to "adopt a dolphin".

It is not just wildlife in which the Moray Firth is rich, however. The Beatrice oil field is already established in the outer Firth and, with resources ebbing, developers are looking for other mineral-rich parts of the area to exploit.

Suggested Topics
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
News
people
Sport
footballArsenal 2 Borussia Dortmund 0: And they can still top the group
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
filmThe singers widow and former bandmates have approved project
News
Andy Murray with his girlfriend of nine years, Kim Sears who he has got engaged to
peopleWimbledon champion announces engagement to girlfriend Kim Sears
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
News
Albert Camus (left) and Jean-Paul Sartre fell out in 1952 and did not speak again before Camus’s death
people
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
News
Ed Miliband visiting the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. The Labour leader has spoken more openly of his heritage recently
newsAttacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But are the barbs more sinister?
Arts and Entertainment
'Felfie' (2014) by Alison Jackson
photographyNew exhibition shows how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
Life and Style
fashion
Life and Style
Fright night: the board game dates back to at least 1890
life
Environment
The vaquita is being killed by fishermen trying to catch the totoaba fish, which is prized in China
environmentJust 97 of the 'world's cutest' sea mammals remain
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Argyll Scott International: Senior Business Analyst- Insurance

Negotiable: Argyll Scott International: Senior Business Analyst - Insurance ...

Recruitment Genius: Property Manager

£25000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This independent, growing Sales...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Multi-skilled graphic designer ...

Austen Lloyd: Court of Protection Solicitor

£30000 - £50000 per annum + EXCELLENT: Austen Lloyd: Court of Protection Solic...

Day In a Page

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

When two worlds collide

Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?