Deaville and Perkins, who are both in their 40s, have been conducting post-mortems on cetaceans for more than two decades. They have seen the impact of our activities on the sea – from overfishing to plastic pollution – but also the power of policy change.
The pair have seen the impact of our activities on the sea – from overfishing to plastic pollution – but also the power of policy change (Credit: Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme).
For example, the UK’s ban on drift nets for catching fish in the North Sea has seen a dramatic decrease in the number of dolphins, porpoises and whales killed in those nets. And the number of common dolphins washing up dead on the south coast of England has decreased since the introduction of a ‘dynamic closure’ system in 2004.
This system allows fishermen to move their nets away from areas where dolphins are feeding, reducing the risk of accidental entanglement.
“We’re seeing some real success stories,” says Deaville. “But it’s a long game.”
Every year, the UK’s coasts are host to a tragic scene: hundreds of porpoises, dolphins and whales washing up on its shores. But what’s causing all these deaths? That’s the question a team of crime scene investigators are trying to uncover.
Rob Deaville and Matt Perkins, two investigators at London Zoo’s white-tiled lab, are on a mission to uncover the mysteries of the UK’s marine life. From long-banned chemicals lingering in the water to the devastating impact of fishing nets, the pair are using post-mortems on the hundreds of stranded cetaceans to shed light on their lives and deaths.
As Deaville and Perkins probe the porpoise’s wounds, they uncover a range of threats to marine life, from natural predators to man-made dangers like bycatch – the unintended entanglement of sea mammals in fishing nets. With hundreds of species of cetaceans in the UK’s waters, and many different types of fishing gear, no single solution will work.
But there is hope. The UK’s strategy to reduce bycatch is showing promise, and the number of common dolphins washing up dead on the south coast of England has decreased since the introduction of a ‘dynamic closure’ system in 2004.
The pair have also uncovered the devastating impact of long-banned chemicals, like the flame-retardant polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) seeping into the sea from landfill sites. These are thought to be driving the last pod of orca whales in Scotland into extinction.
Through their work, Deaville and Perkins are shining a light on the threats facing the UK’s marine life – and the power of policy change to protect it. Join us as we uncover the secrets of the sea, and explore what we can do to help.