Dolphins Stolen from Wild, Headed to Lives of Despair in Captivity
A buyer from Aspro International, one of the largest operators of marine parks in Europe, has purchased and today transferred six live bottlenose dolphins captured from the wild three weeks ago in Taiji’s infamous killing Cove, reports Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s Cove Guardians presently on the ground in Taiji, Japan.
The buyer, believed to be from Aspro’s Marineland Mallorca, has been at Taiji Fisherman’s Union—the fisherman conduct the dolphin and pilot whale drives—on and off since Saturday, working with local trainers to ready the dolphins for transport. A transfer truck was on the scene at Fisherman’s Union today preparing six airline transfer containers, likely to ship the dolphins to marine parks in Europe. The dolphins were purchased from the Taiji Whale Museum, which takes wild-caught dolphins from the Cove and sells them for several hundred thousand dollars apiece to stark and lonely lives in captivity.
Taiji is “ground zero” for the lucrative, international trade in live dolphins. These highly intelligent, social beings are stolen from their families in the wild and forced into a solitary, confined existence where they must perform for their meals. As part of an agreement between the Fisherman’s Union and the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the six dolphins purchased by Aspro International were not part of a hunt in which dolphins were slaughtered. However, in one of the drives—in which the dolphins not chosen for sale were driven back out to sea—one dolphin succumbed to the stress of the drive or was injured in the process of release and was later found floating dead in the outskirts of the Cove. The Cove Guardians believe its body may have been taken to the butcher house and sold for meat.
“Aspro International is a marine park conglomerate whose foundation’s motto is 'the future survival of mankind depends on living creatures coexisting in harmony,'" said Melissa Sehgal, Cove Guardian leader stationed in Taiji. “It’s unconscionable that the foundation’s philosophy about the importance of coexisting with nature does not extend to the dolphins of Taiji. By purchasing dolphins captured in the Cove, they are indirectly contributing to the horrific bloodshed that goes on here,” she added.
The brutal dolphin massacre that goes on in Taiji is the world-renowned slaughter made famous by the Academy Award-winning documentary, The Cove (2009). Cove Guardians are Sea Shepherd sentries who witness and document the horrific dolphin killings that occur annually in the tiny fishing village. They are volunteers from around the world who work tirelessly on the ground in Taiji to spotlight the atrocities being committed against these much-beloved, captivating and social creatures with a goal of bringing an end to the massacre.
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>