Out of the Blue, the NHMs UK cetaceans strandings research scheme, says that strandings increased from 360 in 1994 to 782 in 2004. And Cornwall has by far the highest number of reported strandings year on year.

The most rapid change has occurred in the past five years of the decade. This, says the NHM, has been largely due to winter strandings of dolphins and harbour porpoises in the South West - often as a result of disposal after bycatch (accidental capture in fishing nets). Other causes include sickness, natural ageing, injury and extreme weather.

Actual numbers of deaths could be even higher. Richard Sabin, the NHMs UK Whale & Dolphin Stranding Scheme Co-ordinator, said: Only a small percentage of the total number of dead dolphins and whales are washed up on our shores, so the recent dramatic increase in strandings represents a much larger number of deaths.

The NHM is asking that any sightings be logged for its ongoing research. Live stranded cetaceans should be reported, in England and Wales, to the RSPCA, 0870 5555999; and in Scotland to the Scottish SPCA, 0131 339 0222.

Dead stranded cetaceans should be reported in England to the NHM, 020 7942 5155; in Scotland to the Scottish Agricultural Office, 01463 243030; and in Wales to Marine Environmental Monitoring, 01348 875000.

However, if you report sightings to other conservation groups, the chances are that the NHM will get hold of the information. It works with a host of organisations including the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, British Divers Marine Life Rescue, and The Wildlife Trusts.

Related links
UK Whale & Dolphin Strandings Scheme
Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society
British Divers Marine Life Rescue
The Wildlife Trusts