A speedboat owner who ‘locked up’ a pod of dolphins has been convicted in what would be the first prosecution under a new wildlife disturbance crackdown. Witnesses saw Christopher Barker, 45, intentionally circling the cetaceans off Scarborough, North Yorkshire, at excessive speed, causing the animals to separate.
A witness described Barker’s actions as “recoveries” and onlookers were shocked and upset, police said. This involved circling them to separate them.
Barker, of Brompton-by-Sawdon, North Yorks, was charged with intentionally or recklessly disturbing a dolphin under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. He pleaded guilty and was fined £200 in what police said was the first case to come as a result of the national effort to protect wildlife at sea.
In his defence, he said he had only owned the boat for a month and was unaware of the dolphin’s protected status. District Judge Adrian Lower said it was the first such case heard by the court and he was sure Barker had no idea his actions “would constitute a criminal offense”.
But North Yorkshire Police said offshore dolphin sightings had increased in recent years, leading to increased human interference. The force said it was committed to protecting the region’s “diverse” wildlife and urged boat owners to respect marine animals.
PC Graham Bilton, wildlife crime officer for the force, said: “Dolphins are an intelligent and social species, often living in large communal groups. In recent years dolphin sightings off the Yorkshire coast have increased dramatically, proving popular with locals and tourists alike.
“But it has also brought an increased risk of human interference. I urge all boat and watercraft operators to act responsibly and respect the marine environment.
“We are extremely lucky in North Yorkshire to have such diverse wildlife. It is important that we appreciate it, protect it and live alongside it.
“North Yorkshire Police are committed to investigating offenses that have a detrimental effect on our wildlife, and I hope this prosecution will underscore that message.”
Geoff Edmond of the RSPCA said: “This was clearly unacceptable behaviour, and the combined determination to investigate the disturbance of the dolphins in this matter has been achieved with the help of members of the public who witnessed this incident. and who were themselves very concerned about what they saw happening.”
Prosecutor Rebecca Dunford said: ‘This is believed to be the first prosecution following the national effort to protect wildlife at sea. There is a cost to interacting with creatures in the wild and this result shows how committed we are to prosecuting this type of crime and protecting our wildlife.
“There is no excuse for these actions which may have a lasting negative impact on dolphins and other wildlife – and we will not hesitate to sue where our legal tests are met.”
Barker pleaded guilty in York Magistrates Court and was fined £200 and ordered to pay a victim surcharge and prosecution costs totaling £334.