MEMBERS of the public are being urged to help an ongoing study of rare white-beaked dolphins, which are living off the Dorset coast.

In 2007, the charity Marinelife discovered a population of the dolphins off the coasts of Devon and Dorset, primarily in Lyme Bay.

White-beaked dolphins are extremely rare in the English Channel, the central and northern North Sea –more than 650km away – is where they can usually be found.

Marine life have been building up a picture of the Dorset population by using photo-identification.

Professor Tom Brereton, research director for Marinelife said: “We are calling on anyone who spots and photographs dolphins when out at sea to submit their images via the new website.

"Just one picture can provide a surprisingly large amount of information that will be vital for conservation efforts of this iconic dolphin of south west waters.”

Individual white-beaked dolphins can be recognised by physical damage to their bodies, including nicks in their dorsal fins and unique marking such as scratches and scars.

In total there have been 142 sightings and re-sightings of 62 individual animals, from encounters of 33 different dolphin pods.

This data has been used to estimate the population size of white-beaked dolphins in the south west, which is thought to be around 140 animals.

However, more sightings and pictures are needed to understand how many dolphins live here, to identify the most important areas for them and to find out other places they visit.

Many of the pictures have been obtained from Marinelife boat surveys, but the charity says these are time consuming, costly and weather dependant.

A new website has been developed that willenable the public to submit pictures of the dolphins and help them to identify individual dolphins, by matching their photos with known animals in Marinelife’s catalogue of individuals.

Visit for information.