MUCH-loved 'Danny the dolphin' - who has thrilled hundreds residents and visitors in recent years in waters off Weymouth - has been found dead.

The community is mourning the loss of Danny, a lone bottlenose dolphin, who was regularly sighted in Weymouth Bay and Portland Harbour, and delighted tours of boat trippers by jumping out of the water just feet away from them.

Dorset Echo: Danny the dolphin by Colin GarrettDanny the dolphin by Colin Garrett

He was found dead in Portland Harbour on Tuesday afternoon. It is believed his death may have been caused by an accident with a boat, with a necropsy under way to determine the exact cause.

Marine wildlife expert Liz Sandeman, co-founder of Marine Connection, described the news as 'devastating'.

She said: "We've been studying solitary dolphins and whales for over 20 years and when I received the news, although I'm really saddened by it, I'm not surprised because the problem with solitary dolphins is they become habituated and they lose their wariness around vessels.

"It happens time and time again, they lose their fear among humans and end up very different creatures."

Weymouth photographer Colin Garrett, who won Underwater Photographer of the Year 2020 for his astounding close-up of Danny, shared touching memories of his encounters.

Dorset Echo: Picture: Colin GarrettPicture: Colin Garrett

He said: "I first encountered Danny in Portland Harbour back in April 2019. He wasn't nearly as confident back then in my opinion. I did manage to take some wonderful photos and a bit of video of him... it was the first time anyone had taken a photo of his underside, confirming he was a male dolphin.

"Nearly a year later in February this year, I was diving again in Portland Harbour when a familiar large head practically rested on my left shoulder. We had another encounter that lasted ten minutes or so. Since then I have seen him swimming around at the surface occasionally but never saw him underwater again.

"News of his death fills me with a bit of an empty feeling really - as a wild animal I always hoped he would move from the area as his interactions with boats were becoming increasingly frequent. Ultimately nobody will truly know why he decided to stay - but during his time here he truly did bring an incredible amount of joy to many people, myself included.

"I will never forget those two encounters."

A spokesman at Portland Marina said: "We’re devastated to report that our resident dolphin Danny has been identified as the dead bottle nose that was recovered from Portland Harbour yesterday. The cause of his death is as yet unknown.

"Danny was well loved at the marina by staff, berth holders and visitors alike, he brought a little bit of magic whenever he came into the marina basin."

Danny appeared to seek out the company of humans - much to the delight of passengers aboard boat trips at Weymouth Bay.

Many responsible local boat operators have previously spoken of their efforts to make sure Danny did not come to harm.

Among them is owner of Weymouth Bay Rib Charter Ben Taylor, who said: "We are devastated by the loss of our popular local character Danny the dolphin. He was an incredible personality and will be deeply missed by everyone.

"Unfortunately bad weather has prevented local harbour users from seeing him over the past couple of weeks, but he leaves us with hundreds of happy memories from the summer."

Meanwhile councillor Tia Roos, who represents Weymouth's Melcombe Regis ward, said: "I, and residents will be really sad with this news. We are so lucky to have beaches and harbours that attract such majestic creatures and yet it didn’t last. I hope we still manage to attract and keep other dolphins in the future."

The news comes after at least three dead dolphins and a seal were sighted at Chesil Beach on Portland earlier this week, however Danny's death is not believed to be linked.