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Public warned not to disturb marine wildlife


In recent weeks visitors to the coast have enjoyed the special experience of observing marine wildlife including Harbour porpoises, Dolphins, Minke whales and a Thresher shark off Rathlin Island.

However there have been a number of complaints about jet skis causing disturbance to marine wildlife. All species of whales, dolphins and porpoises (collectively termed ‘cetaceans’) are fully protected by law from disturbance, capture, injury or killing*. This means that insensitive boat handling or jet ski use that leads to disturbance or injury of protected species may lead to prosecution.


On 25 July 2021, the Department responded to reports of disturbance to Bottlenose dolphins in the Ballycastle Bay area. A Department patrol vessel intercepted and cautioned a number of individuals, resulting in jet skis and boats returning to the harbour. The Department is currently investigating if any breaches of wildlife legislation occurred.


If you encounter cetaceans at sea please adhere to the following:


  • Maintain a steady course, slowing down to 6 knots of less when you are within 1km of them.

  • Do not approach closer than 100m of the animals and do not remain in contact with them for longer than 15 minutes.

  • Do not chase cetaceans, drive a boat directly towards them or encircle them and wherever possible, let them approach you while maintaining a steady course and speed.

  • Do not change course, behave in an erratic manner or come to a sudden stop.

  • When leaving it is important to establish where all the animals are before departing at slow speed and only resume maximum speed when you are 1km away.

  • Should you observe anyone intentionally or recklessly injuring, disturbing or harassing marine wildlife the incident should be reported immediately to the PSNI on 101. Describe your call as a wildlife crime report.


You can also report a marine wildlife crime to: Marine.Wildlife@daera-ni.gov.uk


• Cetaceans are a protected species under *The Conservation (Natural Habitats, etc.) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1995 (as amended)


• Cetaceans vary in their response to boats; some are more sensitive than others, however, they all use sound to communicate with each other and for hunting. The use of boats and jet skis in areas frequented by cetaceans can pose a threat either by direct injury (propeller strikes) or by interference or stress caused from the high frequency sounds from the vessel’s engine. This is especially problematic during the breeding season which may affect the mother-calf bond.

• The circling or crowding of cetaceans by vessels can prevent their safe escape and heighten stress levels. Be aware that the use of kayaks or paddle boards have the potential to startle marine wildlife through their silent approach.