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28 August 2017, 05:33
Police are investigating several incidents where boat operators have gone too close to wildlife such as dolphins, orcas and humpback whales.
In Shetland, a photographer in a boat allegedly circled a pod of killer whales too closely and then split the pod, while on the River Tay there are continuing issues with jet skiers and dolphins, particularly near Broughty Ferry.
The Scottish Government-led Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime Scotland (PAW Scotland) is now urging boat and marine craft operators to respect Scotland's marine wildlife or they could risk endangering themselves and the mammals.
They could also face criminal charges, and a fine of up to £5,000.
Sgt Andrew Mavin, Police Scotland wildlife crime co-ordinator, said: "We've received several reports of boat operators getting far too close to cetaceans, sometimes apparently following them to get a good photograph.
"These animals are extremely powerful and people shouldn't get too close for obvious reasons.
"There is also a possibility of injury to the animals themselves from boats and other marine craft.
"There are clear guidelines available for watching marine wildlife, so ignorance of the law is not an excuse.
"I encourage anyone witnessing a suspected crime to contact police Scotland on 101 as soon as possible. Details of the boat or craft are essential to help us identify the operator."
There have also been reports of boats causing problems with dolphins at Chanonry Point and at Aberdeen Harbour, while members of the public have raised concerns about boats going too close to humpback whales seen recently at St Cyrus National Nature Reserve.
The whales, dolphins and porpoises which frequent Scotland's coastline are protected under the Conservation (Natural Habitats) Regulations 1994.
This includes protection from disturbance, whether it be reckless or deliberate, harassment, killing and injury, with offences subject to a fine of up to £5,000.
Dr Fiona Manson, marine ecology adviser with Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) said: "I'd encourage anyone visiting the coast for wildlife watching to read the Scottish marine wildlife watching code.
"It provides clear advice on how to act responsibly to keep within the law and also on how to get the most out of your wildlife watching."
If approached by cetaceans, boat operators are advised to reduce speed and cruise on a steady course heading away from the creatures. This gives the cetacean the chance to escape or approach.
They are advised to avoid rapid changes of direction and high revving engines, as this can disorientate the creatures, and operators should never put a boat in the way of their escape out to sea - for instance, by blocking them in a harbour or bay.
The code can be found at www.snh.gov.uk/marinecode.