1,100 Mutilated Dolphins Have Washed Up on French Beaches Since January
A record number of dolphins have washed up dead and mutilated on French beaches, and scientists don't know exactly why.
Activists say 1,100 dolphins have washed up on France's Atlantic coast since January, but the number could be as much as 10 times higher than that, as many likely sink instead of washing ashore. Researchers at the La Rochelle marine laboratory Observatoire Pelagis said they had seen "extreme levels of mutilation" on the dolphins that did wash up, The Guardian reported.
"There's never been a number this high," La Rochelle University National Center for Scientific Research member Willy Daubin told The Associated Press. "Already in three months, we have beaten last year's record, which was up from 2017 and even that was the highest in 40 years."
Daubin said 90 percent of the deaths could be blamed on industrial fishing generally, as dolphins are accidentally caught up in nets. However, it is not known what specifically is causing the number of deaths to rise so dramatically.
"What fishing machinery or equipment is behind all these deaths?" he asked.
There is speculation that trawlers fishing for sea bass may be to blame, according to The Guardian. The dolphins injure themselves trying to escape the nets, or fisherman injure them in the process of trying to free them. Activists told The Associated Press that fisherman will also cut off dolphins' body parts once they have been suffocated by the net in order not to damage the net.
President of Sea Shepherd France Lamya Essemlali also told The Associated Press that the number of dolphin deaths began to rise three years ago, coinciding with the lifting of a ban on aggressive hake fishing.
"The spotlight has been put on the trawlers that fish for sea bass ... which is a scandal. But they were not the only ones responsible," she told The Associated Press.
Essemali estimated that the real dolphin death toll was probably around 6,500 to 10,000 a year, according to The Guardian.
"Right now it's such an alarming rate they could drive the European dolphin population to extinction," she said.
French Ecology Minister Francois de Rugy traveled to La Rochelle last week to try and find a way to stem the killings, The Associated Press reported. His proposals include doing research into acoustic repellent devices that 26 two-vessel trawlers operating in the Bay of Biscay have installed. However, Sea Shepherd said the devices were not effective, since fisherman turn them off out of fear they will scare away valuable fish.
In a video shared last month, Sea Shepherd recorded a French fishing vessel with a dead dolphin in its net. The video showed that the fisherman did not attach acoustic repellents to the net until they realized that they were being filmed.
Another dolphin drowned in commercial fishing net confirms that trawlers aren't using acoustic repellants. The fish… https://t.co/zQFG52KIIo— Sea Shepherd (@Sea Shepherd)1553532347.0
The activist organization also said that acoustic repellents were not a viable solution, since they would increase noise pollution that harms marine life.
"The government needs to take responsibility and act — especially [French President Emmanuel] Macron, who said he wanted to protect ecology," Essemlali told The Associated Press.
Macron has positioned himself as an environmental leader, launching a campaign to invite international climate scientists to France to "Make the Planet Great Again." However, his first Ecology Minister Nicolas Hulot quit in August 2018 over what he felt was insufficient action on restricting pesticides and protecting biodiversity.
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A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
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