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17 Dead Dolphins Wash Ashore in Mauritius Near Oil Spill

Animals

At least 17 dead dolphins washed up on Mauritius' beaches Wednesday, raising questions about what effect the oil spilled from the Japanese cargo tanker MV Wakashio, which ran aground on July 25, is having on marine life surrounding the Indian Ocean island-nation, according to Reuters.


As thousands of tons of fuel spilled into the ocean, activists and scientists were quick to warn that an ecological disaster was in the making as the island's unique coral species and fish would be threatened. Now, the death of a significant portion of a dolphin pod may be a signal of the cascading effects from the spill, according to the BBC.

While the fisheries ministry says the dolphins were killed by sharks, environmental campaigners are calling for a probe to find out if the deaths are connected to the spill.

"The dead dolphins had several wounds and blood around their jaws, no trace of oil however. The ones that survived, around ten, seemed very fatigued and could barely swim," said Jasvin Sok Appadu from the fisheries ministry, as Reuters reported.

However, Greenpeace Africa finds the timing raises doubts.

"This is a deeply sad and alarming day for the people of Mauritius," Happy Khambule, Greenpeace Africa's senior climate and energy campaign manager, said in a statement on Wednesday, as Al-Jazeera reported. "Greenpeace appeals to the authorities to carry out a swift, transparent and public autopsy on the bodies collected."

In a tweet, Greenpeace Africa said, "this incident must be investigated fully and transparently! If the oil spill was indeed the cause of this tragedy, then the polluters must be held accountable for the harm done to coastal communities and their #Biodiversity."

Scientists have warned that the effects of the spill could last for decades. As Forbes reported, there has been a steady stream of dead animals washing ashore since the spill, including turtles, fish, shellfish and crabs. The effect the oil is having on dolphins seems evident as videos and photos have emerged showing oil in their mouths. There was also oil around the blowholes and on the skin of the dolphins. Oceanographer Vassen Kauppaymuthoo told reporters that the dolphins smelled of fuel.

"In my opinion, this situation will continue to deteriorate as time goes on," he said as local media reported, according to the BBC.

It is extremely rare for so many dead dolphins to wash ashore at the same time, according to the BBC. "Waking up this morning to witness so many dead dolphins on our seashore is worse than a nightmare," said Nitin Jeeha, a Mauritian resident.

"I have seen around eight to 10 dead dolphins. Are there more in the lagoon?"

Some of the dolphins washed ashore were still alive, but extremely distressed.

"This is a terrible day. We are seeing these dolphins swim up to the shore in distress and then die," said Sunil Dowarkasing, an environmental consultant and former member of parliament, as The Associated Press reported. "We have never seen deaths of these very intelligent marine mammals like this. Never."

Dowarkasing told the AP that it was likely that more dolphins have died out at sea.

"I think there are two possibilities: Either they died from tons of fuel spilled in the sea, or they were poisoned by the toxic materials on the bow of the ship that was sunk offshore," said Dowarkasing to The Associated Press. "We've been worried about this. The oil spill and sinking of the bow are ruining what had been the best-preserved area of our island."

Seabirds often follow fishing vessels to find easy meals. Alexander Petrov / TASS via Getty Images

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