Christopher Barker, 45, was sailing at around 25 knots when he turned his boat, passed through the pod of around 10 dolphins and began circling and ‘chasing’ them, York Magistrates’ Court heard.
Prosecutor Geoff Ellis said when the dolphins desperately tried to swim to deeper water, they separated, apparently separating a mother from her calf.
The harrowing incident, around 3pm on July 9 last year, was witnessed by fishermen, tourists and wildlife lovers on a marine nature cruise who took photos of the speedboat Barker’s blue and white as he was led towards the pod of dolphins.
A witness, a freelance fisherman and crew member of the Scarborough Lifeboat, said he spotted the dolphins “very relaxed” near Scarborough Harbor until he saw Barker’s speedboat “heading for the high-speed nacelle”.
He said the speedboat was traveling at about 25 knots as it approached the pod about 150 meters offshore. The pod responded by initially closing in, but then panicked and sped off in different directions.
He said it appeared Barker had “deliberately” headed for the pod in the South Bay.
He said he looked like Barker, a terrier man from the Derwent Hunt in North Yorkshire, ‘herding together’ the dolphins who seemed ‘distressed and restless’ and at one point ‘divided into two separate, smaller groups’.
He said the dolphins reacted as if a predator were surrounding them but were unable to escape due to the circular motions of the speedboat.
Passengers on the Queensferry cruise ship were shocked and upset to see the speedboat so close to the dolphins. The captain honked his horn to try to stop the speedboat.
The owner of the Queensferry said he saw the dolphins “moving faster” and further out to sea as Barker rushed towards them as they tried to flee.
He said they seemed “very restless” as Barker turned his boat around and “moved around the pod at high speed in a circular motion”.
He said Barker was traveling “too fast” and “targeting” the pod for about 10 minutes.
A woman who was on the cruise ship said passengers liked to see the dolphins, but then started “screaming at (Barker), trying to get him to stop” when they saw the speedboat circling the pod.
She said the speedboat “cut in the way” of the dolphins, preventing them from escaping. The passengers were “clearly upset and angry at what they had seen”.
A retired photographer who took pictures of the disturbing scene said ‘every time the dolphins turned around trying to get away, (Barker) turned around to stop them from doing so’.
He said that at one point he saw a young calf separate from the group.
Another Queensferry passenger said she saw Barker’s speedboat ‘bouncing on the surface of the water’, creating a large wake, and appeared to be ‘chasing’ the dolphins and approaching within 10ft of them.
She said Barker appeared to be “stalking them as they tried to get to safety in deep water”.
Barker was later questioned by wildlife officers and admitted he had no boating experience or qualifications.
He said he had no idea dolphins were a protected species and he had no idea they could be disturbed by speedboats and had no intention of doing so.
He said his actions were “stupid” and apologized.
He was accused of intentionally or recklessly disturbing a wild animal, but initially denied the allegation. He was due to stand trial but pleaded guilty at the last minute.
The court heard that since the summer of 2020 bottlenose dolphin sightings off the Scarborough coast had increased exponentially, prompting a local campaign to ensure all fishing, commercial and passenger boats keep protected species away.
Barker’s defense attorney, from Brompton, said he had no intention of upsetting the group and had since been vilified on social media.
Barker ran a successful business and bought the speedboat for himself last summer despite his lack of experience at sea.
District Judge Adrian Lower said the case was the first of its kind to be prosecuted in magistrates court.
He said Barker had clearly disturbed a group of “those beautiful, intelligent creatures” and appeared to have been “blind” to the fact that his actions were illegal.
He said Barker got “far too close” to the pod, but added there was no absolute proof that any of the young mammals were a calf.
He said he thought Barker had been “completely incompetent” rather than deliberately cruel.
Barker was fined £200 and ordered to pay £300 costs, plus an additional £34.