14 april 2005 – An astounding 55 harbour porpoises have recently been found dead on the North Sea coast of Denmark. The strandings occurred in the space of about 24 hours over a stretch of about 10km between Vorupor and Bulbjerg.The indications are that these animals died in Danish coastal fishing nets. This number of porpoises stranding together is extremely unusual as these animals are usually solitary or found in small groups – it is thought to be unprecedented in the North Sea area. Ten of the animals have been retrieved for post-mortem at the Fisheries Museum in Esbjerg in order to investigate the cause of the deaths. Danish authorities are currently investigating which fisheries are operating in the area and which may have been responsible. One currently under suspicion is the bottom-set gillnet fishery for lumpfish
Meanwhile, it has been reported that unusually high numbers of porpoises (some 20-30) have washed up on the North East coast of England. Some reports suggest that these animals have been shot or bludgeoned. However, bodies that wash up on the shore typically suffer much scavenging and damage on the seabed and rocks as they drift and this may cause misleading features. The bodies that have been retrieved are being investigated, but there is a strong likelihood that these may also have been the victims of fishing nets.
The Danish porpoise deaths (and possibly those in England) highlight again the inadequacy of current legislation to protect these animals. Current EU fisheries laws aimed at reducing porpoise and dolphin bycatches do not address the extensive gillnet fisheries operated by small boats in inshore waters that threaten harbour porpoises around the UK and other North and Baltic Sea coasts.