WILDLIFE experts have raised concerns after an “unusual” number of marine mammals were found washed up along the Dorset coast recently.

The Dorset Wildlife Trust (DWT) said it had received reports of a dead seal at Southbourne beach earlier this month. The weekend before last, a dead porpoise was found on the same beach.

A dead common dolphin was also reported to the charity after being found washed up at Seatown, near Bridport, recently.

Although the cause of the animals’ deaths is unknown, the charity says it is not ruling out a possible link with the current oil well drilling taking place in Poole Bay.

The trust has voiced strong concerns over the drilling being carried out by Corallian Energy. Fears for local wildlife were raised further following the announcement operations will continue until the end of March – a “critical” period for fish spawning and bird migration, the trust says.

Government regulator OPRED previously stated the environmental risk assessment carried out “confirmed that proposed chemical use and discharge would not pose a significant environmental risk”.

It also stated operations “are unlikely to result in any significant disturbance or any other adverse impacts on marine mammals”.

Last week, Bournemouth council said the dead porpoise’s death was “unfortunate” but had “nothing to do with the arrival of the oil rig”.

Chris Saunders, head of seafront operations, added: “The cause of death is unknown but having these animals washed ashore is quite a common occurrence and certainly nothing out of the norm.”

However, Emma Rance, marine conservation officer for DWT, said it was “unusual to get this many strandings in a two-week period”.

“In the last 15 years that I’ve worked for the Dorset Wildlife Trust, I can only remember one or two washing up at this time of year,” she said.

“We’re all on high alert and concerned about the oil rig. Poole Bay has a very productive environment, with spawning and nursery grounds for commercially important species such as cod, as well as both species of seahorse. February and March is the peak spawning season for cod, so any noises or dumping of oiled drill cuttings will affect them.”

The trust is urging anyone who finds a marine mammal washed up to report it immediately by calling 01305 264620 or emailing enquiries@dorsetwildlifetrust.org.uk. Take a photograph of the animal but do not touch it.

“If there are any subsequent strandings, we will aim to take samples for necropsy to be certain of the cause of death,” Emma said.

“The porpoise found in Southbourne was taken away by the council, and we were unable to find the seal that washed up there and the dolphin at Seatown. Our colleagues at the Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme can determine so much from a carcass but we must act fast.

“We want to determine whether or not there is any link between the oil well and the strandings.”