An Elgin man who was accused of harassing dolphins in the Moray Firth has been acquitted after a trial heard the evidence against him.
Bogdan Luca faced a charge of “intentionally or recklessly” disturbing the animals by driving his boat through the pod off the coast of Lossiemouth on March 25 2022.
The 43-year-old, of Duff Avenue in Elgin, appeared in the dock at the town’s sheriff court.
But he was ultimately cleared of the charge when a verdict of not proven was returned.
Elgin Sheriff Court had previously heard evidence from Kate Stokes, 37, who had been dolphin-watching with friends on the day of the alleged incident.
The eyewitness had recorded a video that captured the events on the day in question.
It was played to the court and showed Luca’s boat driving at speed towards a pod of dolphins.
Just as the boat reached the pod, it was seen to slow down and turn – but seemed to drive over one of them.
Ms Stokes thought around “eight or 12” dolphins were in the group.
She told the court that she “heard an engine revving” and thought it had seemed “unusual”.
She added: “The dolphins were breaching and swimming around. I think they were feeding”.
‘I could not understand why someone would do it’
Then she told the court she felt “shocked” and “upset” to see the vessel approaching the pod, adding: “I could not understand why someone would do it.
“If they had wanted to go and see them, you would stop a distance away. This felt more intentional than going to watch – it felt they were aimed at them.”
Ms Stokes explained she was a wildlife fan and thought dolphins were “intelligent, sensitive creatures”.
The court heard that the dolphins then “went into stealth mode” and Ms Stokes said they had “obviously changed behaviour” and were no longer visible.
Under cross-examination from defence counsel Stephen Carty, Ms Stokes agreed that the boat slowed down in her video as it reached the pod.
Bogdan Luca ‘made a beeline…straight through the middle’
Dawn Scott, 53, was also on the harbour wall spotting dolphins and described the boat as “making a beeline” for the marine creatures.
“Normally you would cut your engine off and try not to scare them,” she said, adding: “He went straight through the middle”.
Police Scotland’s wildlife crime officer, Police Constable Hannah Corbett also gave evidence.
She said that she had cautioned Mr Luca two days after the alleged incident.
The court heard Luca had responded by admitting he “had seen the dolphins” and “went close” to check with his fish finder if there were any bait fish under the boat.
Fiscal depute Karon Rollo told the court Luca’s actions had amounted to recklessness and were intentional.
“He deliberately drove towards the pod. It is clear from the video evidence this was reckless,” she added.
‘You can’t tell a wild animal to just stop’
But Sheriff Gordon Fleetwood queried the recklessness of Luca’s actions.
“A boat is not a car – it does not have brakes,” he pointed out, adding: “These are wild animals and you don’t always know where they will pop up.
“What I see in the video is a boat and a dolphin heading towards each other, but the dolphin continues, and the boat tries to dodge it.
“You can’t tell a wild animal to just stop.”
Ms Rollo replied: “That is why there is a responsibility on behalf of the boat owner”.
She quoted the definition of a wildlife disturbance as being “the result of direct or indirect action, which changes the behaviour of an animal”.
She explained: “Mr Luca admitted after being cautioned, ‘I have seen the dolphins and I went close’ – this shows a reckless action”.
On passing judgment, Sheriff Fleetwood said: “The boat clearly slows down and takes evasive action. It does not show reckless conduct.
“I must therefore have reasonable doubt. I have considered the evidence and I cannot hold the charge proven.”
The case was “not proven,” he decided.
Members of the public are encouraged to follow the Scottish Marine Watching Code.
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