Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

1,100 Mutilated Dolphins Have Washed Up on French Beaches Since January

Animals
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.

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.

A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Financial institutions in New York state will now have to consider the climate-related risks of their planning strategies. Ramy Majouji / WikiMedia Commons

By Brett Wilkins

Regulators in New York state announced Thursday that banks and other financial services companies are expected to plan and prepare for risks posed by the climate crisis.

Read More Show Less

Trending

There are many different CBD oil brands in today's market. But, figuring out which brand is the best and which brand has the strongest oil might feel challenging and confusing. Our simple guide to the strongest CBD oils will point you in the right direction.

Read More Show Less
The left image shows the OSIRIS-REx collector head hovering over the Sample Return Capsule (SRC) after the Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism arm moved it into the proper position for capture. The right image shows the collector head secured onto the capture ring in the SRC. NASA / Goddard / University of Arizona / Lockheed Martin

A NASA spacecraft has successfully collected a sample from the Bennu asteroid more than 200 million miles away from Earth. The samples were safely stored and will be preserved for scientists to study after the spacecraft drops them over the Utah desert in 2023, according to the Associated Press (AP).

Read More Show Less
Exxon Mobil Refinery is seen from the top of the Louisiana State Capitol in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on March 5, 2017. WClarke / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 4.0

Exxon Mobil will lay off an estimated 14,000 workers, about 15% of its global workforce, including 1,900 workers in the U.S., the company announced Thursday.

Read More Show Less

Support Ecowatch