Worrying increase in marine disturbance – call for responsible behaviour in watching wildlife

As large numbers of visitors to flock to the Cornish coast this summer, the Cornwall Marine and Coastal Code Group is sending out a timely reminder on how to responsibly enjoy watching marine wildlife such as dolphins and basking sharks.

A steady increase in incidents of disturbance to marine wildlife has been reported to Cornwall Wildlife Trust’s hotline over the past few weeks, with the start of the summer holiday season.

The image, taken by Cornwall Seal Research group show jet skis disturbing a seal colony in a quiet Cornish cove.

Ruth Williams, Marine Conservation Manager for the Trust says,

“The disturbances have mainly involved seals and sea birds by tripper boats and kayakers, who because they are paddling quietly along, don’t realise they are disturbing the wildlife”.

As large numbers of holiday makers flock to the Cornish coast, the Cornwall Marine and Coastal Code Group is now reminding everyone about how to enjoy watching marine wildlife such as dolphins and basking sharks responsibly.

Dan Jarvis from British Divers Marine Life Rescue, one of the Group’s member organisations says,

“Cornwall has an amazing range of marine species that are a big part of why lots of people love to visit this region, but sometimes people’s encounters with our wildlife do not go well for the animals involved”.

The species most often affected are seabirds and seals as they come on to land to rest, but dolphins and basking sharks close to shore will quickly attract a lot of attention, making them vulnerable to overcrowding or being chased and can lead to accidents.


The Cornwall Marine and Coastal Code group includes Cornwall Wildlife Trust, the RSPB, Cornwall Seal Group, National Trust, Marine Stranding Network and the British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR), Cornwall Council, Devon and Cornwall Police Marine & Coastal Policing Team, the Marine Management Organisation and Natural England.

Full guidelines can be found on the Cornwall Wildlife Trust’s website. These recommendations include:

  • keep your distance from resting animals such as seals and seabirds on land
  • remain calm and quiet so resting animals are not disturbed and scared off
  • move slowly and avoid sudden changes in direction and speed if animals are nearby
  • stay side on to the animals while watching them rather than approaching directly
  • if there are other boats/kayaks etc nearby then ensure the animals have plenty of space and an obvious escape route should they choose to leave, and to not pursue them when they do

Dan Jarvis from BDMLR said:

“We are incredibly fortunate that we have these animals here in the first place and it is a privilege that we’re able to see them, so we want to help people get the best out of these encounters by following some simple guidelines that will avoid causing distress and harm”

It is perfectly safe and lawful to view marine wildlife the experts are stressing, but acting responsibly and cautiously to minimise the risk of disturbance is always the safest course of action.

“By encouraging people to use these guidelines, we hope that they in turn will share them with others, so that many more people are aware of how their actions, and those of others, can affect the behaviour of animals that need to use these habitats too. We are all out on the coast to enjoy the amazing environment we have here and we need to make sure the animals that live there are still able to enjoy it too, otherwise they could abandon the area and we all lose out”

Reporting incidents of marine wildlife disturbance
If you see marine species such as dolphins, porpoise or whales being disturbed, please contact your nearest MMO office or local police force wildlife crime officer on 101.

Incidents of disturbance in Cornwall can be reported to the Cornwall Wildlife Trust’s disturbance hotline on 0345 201 2626, which has seen a steady increase in the number of calls over the last few weeks with the warmer weather.