Friday, August 04, 2006

Jet-ski speeding threatens colony of dolphins

ROGUE jet-skiers were yesterday accused of endangering a barely established colony of dolphins.

Record numbers of the mammals have been spotted in the Firth of Tay this summer after a £140 million project rid the estuary of sewage.

Marine experts believe a new colony is now being formed in the Tay by dolphins that have migrated from the Moray Firth.

Swimmers and conservationists "have lost count" of the number of bottle-nosed dolphins seen this year and believe that the water's cleanliness has greatly improved.

However, jet-skiers have been racing at speeds of up to 80mph, causing stress to the pods of dolphins and raising fears that they may be scared off.

Charles Farquhar, the leisure and culture convener with Dundee City Council, yesterday called for a crackdown on the rogue jet-skiers after receiving dozens of complaints.

Mr Farquhar said: "There are a few totally irresponsible jet-ski riders who have been causing problems.

"The machines they ride are capable of travelling at 80mph, and there is a very real danger they could distress the dolphins that have been using the Tay.

"People have been enjoying seeing the dolphins all summer, and it would be a great pity if the actions of a few individuals chased them away.

"In most cases, they will have had no training in the use of these powerful machines and no safety advice," he said, "They also come in close to the beach and the water where people are swimming, and this can be a very frightening experience for people who are out there enjoying themselves."

Mr Farquhar has contacted Tayside Police to highlight the issue.

Charles Webster, councillor for Broughty Ferry, said that he had witnessed two jet-skiers disrupt a "spectacular display of dolphins".

Mr Webster said: "The two jet-skiers came very close to where the dolphins were.

"They couldn't not have seen the dolphins. They didn't appear to stay away from them and they didn't cut their speed either.

"It's actions like this we need to put a stop to."

He added: "We will be continuing to work with Tayjet Personal Watercraft Club, which represents the extremely responsible enthusiasts who use the water safely, the port authority and other agencies to deal with the problem."

Tayjet Personal Watercraft Club, at Broughty Ferry, has a dolphin, porpoise and whale policy. Its guidance states: "Collisions with boats or jet-skis may result in injury or death of cetaceans; engine noise may interfere with their acoustic communication, prey-detection and orientation systems; and erratic patterns of movement of boats may cause the animals to suffer stress."

If dolphins become stressed, they are likely to move to other areas.

Tayjet also advises that riders should not go above five knots, or about 5.5mph, when operating near dolphins.

A spokesman for the club added: "All of our members receive full training and instruction, and that includes how to respect all aspects of marine life."

Quick "Facts about Dolphins"