North Sea dolphin colony 'may be wiped out within 50 years'

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One of Britain's few colonies of bottle-nosed dolphins could be wiped out within 50 years, an expert said yesterday.

One of Britain's few colonies of bottle-nosed dolphins could be wiped out within 50 years, an expert said yesterday.

The 129 sea mammals living in the waters of the Moray Firth, in north-east Scotland, have been dying because of pollution and human interference. Conservationists say a food shortage is the latest threat to their survival.

Tony Archer, manager of the Moray Firth Wildlife Centre, said: "This colony seems to be disappearing steadily at a rate of 6 per cent per annum. It is impossible to blame their demise on one particular factor, but over-fishing is definitely leading to a shortage of food.

"The sewage system in these parts is also very primitive, and harmful waste is often dumped straight into the sea. Another problem is speed boats. After seeing movies like Flipper, many people think that dolphins are friendly creatures who do not mind being approached by humans in boats.

"But the sound of the boats' engines can disrupt essential communication between mothers and their calves. There are also several instances of babies getting caught up in propellers."

The dolphin colony is worth an estimated £8m in tourism, with boats carrying sightseers from ports including Inverness, Cromarty and Nairn. The dolphins, which grow up to four metres long, are found in abundance all over the world. In Britain, they live in Cardigan Bay in Wales and off the Cornish coast. But the Moray Firth colony is the last to survive in the North Sea.

Mr Archer said: "Our calculations show that they could die out in the next 50 years if nothing is done to help them. The only way forward is for more resources to be put in to finding out exactly what is going wrong ... If the dolphins are under threat, then so are the other animals, including whales."

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