A NEW campaign has been launched to stop dolphins and other marine creatures being disturbed.

Last year, there were reports of people approaching and swimming with dolphins, despite warnings to give wildlife along the coastline a wide berth.

Now, marine wildlife charity Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) has launched a new public information drive in partnership with the UK National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) - a dedicated British police department that gathers intelligence on wildlife crime.

Of particular concern is the lack of awareness of the existing laws by members of the public using boats, jet skis, or who attempt to jump in and swim with dolphins in the seas around the UK.

“Our key aim is to stop disturbance before it happens by raising awareness of the issues,” said Alice Walters, WDC policy officer.

“Significant human disturbance, or harassment, is illegal and can drive dolphins from the places that are important for them.

"Everyone is excited to encounter whales and dolphins. Social media interest, particularly around unusual sightings can draw crowds of people, all hoping to get a close view. They can be unaware of how to behave around them, so most disturbance is unintentional. A good encounter is one that is enjoyable for you and the dolphins.”

Chief Inspector Lou Hubble, NWCU, added: ‘Wildlife watching is an amazing experience and it can be very easy to get lost in the moment. If your behaviour has a detrimental effect on a dolphin you could be committing an offence.‎

“Give marine mammals space to exhibit natural behaviour in their natural environment without harassment or disturbance. Keep your distance, show respect and be responsible.”

In no circumstances should the public attempt to feed, swim with or touch the dolphins. These are wild, powerful animals which can grow up to four metres long.

As well as causing significant disturbance to the animals and pushing them off important feeding sites, close contact can also result in exposure to diseases to both humans and animals.

Repeated disturbance could cause the dolphins to leave important feeding sites to search for quieter areas. Disruption to feeding, resting and nursing behaviour could have a long-term impact on the health and wellbeing of individual dolphins and populations.