Record strandings of dolphins and whales 'are tip of the iceberg'

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The number of whale, dolphin and porpoise strandings has more than doubled in the UK in the past decade.

The number of whale, dolphin and porpoise strandings has more than doubled in the UK in the past decade.

The figures published yesterday prompted calls for further monitoring of coastal areas in order to curb the death rate.

The top 10 sites for strandings over the decade were listed in the Natural History Museum report, Out of the Blue .

The report found that strandings rose from 360 in 1994 to 782 in 2004. The biggest increase has been in the past five years, according to the report. The surge was attributed to winter strandings of short-beaked common dolphins and harbour porpoises in south-west England.

Richard Sabin, whale and dolphin stranding scheme co-ordinator at the Natural History Museum, said that the total volume of deaths was likely to be much higher. "Only a small percentage of the total number of dead dolphins and whales are washed up on our shores, so the recent dramatic increase in strandings represents a much larger number of deaths," he said.

"The help of individuals in reporting strandings, both on land and at sea, is vital to our research. In identifying key areas of the UK we hope that people will be particularly vigilant in these areas and help the work of the UK whale and dolphin stranding scheme."

The worst area in the UK was Cornwall, while the Outer Hebrides has the highest number of strandings for Scotland, and Gwynedd in Wales.

Gerrans Bay and Veryan Bay in Cornwall. Thurlestone in Devon and Firth of Forth in Scotland were among the top 10 sites for strandings.

While strandings can occur throughout the year, there were seasonal changes, according to the report. The site of the strandings is determined by factors including sea currents, local geography, prevailing winds, storms and fisheries activity.

The reasons cited for strandings include sickness, disorientation, natural mortality, extreme weather conditions, or injury. One of the most recent and high-profile causes of death has been cited as "bycatch", the accidental capture in animals in fishing nets. Such incidents have prompted efforts to ban pair trawling, in which a large net is strung between trawlers, in British waters, amid reports that it has greatly increased strandings of dolphins and porpoises. Environmental campaigners have blamed the deaths of thousands of dolphins on the technique.