Quantcast
Captive dolphins at Marineland Antibes in France. John Clift

France Bans Captive Breeding of Dolphins and Whales While SeaWorld Still Invests in It

By Laura Bridgeman

The French government passed new legislation earlier this month aimed at phasing out all dolphin and whale captivity, a move that reflects growing public awareness and concern over the poor living conditions cetaceans are forced to endure in captivity.

Keep reading... Show less
A volunteer examines a pilot whale during a 2013 mass stranding in the Florida Everglades. Photo credit: Everglades NPS

Noise Pollution Forces Whales and Dolphins From Their Homes

By Jason Bittel

Waves lap at motionless heaps of blubber and fins and the sun bears down on chapped skin. Gulls start to, well, do what gulls do. This heartbreaking scene happened in January when nearly 100 false killer whales became stranded along a remote shore in the Florida Everglades.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

Watch Sea Shepherd Ship Sail with Megapod of Dolphins

On Feb. 25, while patrolling the waters of the Gulf of California for Operation Milagro III, the M/V Sam Simon sailed through a megapod of dolphins with numbers estimated to be more than 1,000 individuals.

The elation and joy of this sight comes with the realization that many of these dolphins' lives will be cut short due to illegal gill nets. Sea Shepherd will stay in the Gulf of California until we pull out every last illegal gill net, ensuring the safety of the inhabitants who call these waters home.

Another Baby Dolphin Dies Thanks to Tourist Selfies

By Brianna Acuesta

In an incident that's shockingly similar to what happened one year ago in Argentina, beachgoers pulled a stranded baby dolphin from the water to capture photos of him and take selfies. Unfortunately, the incident resulted in the baby's death, showing that Argentinians did not learning anything from the last time they pulled a baby dolphin from the ocean.

A video that was released this week shows the baby dolphin surrounded by a crowd of people taking photos and videos. The local newspaper, La Nacion, reported that fellow beachgoers said that people had pulled the dolphin from the shallows of the water.

A witness told C5N News, "They let him die. They could have returned him to the ocean, he was breathing, but everyone started taking photos and touching him, saying he was already dead."

A person's first instincts when seeing an animal in need, especially one so young, should be to help them rather than hurt them. Instead of checking to see if the baby had a chance to live, they immediately yanked him from his home and he died while extremely stressed from the situation.

It's unclear if the baby was sick before humans spotted him, which would explain why he found himself stranded, but what's indisputable is that the humans involved inadvertently participated in his death by not helping him.

Last year, beachgoers pulled two baby dolphins out of the water for selfies, resulting in the death of one and people everywhere were outraged. This outrage, apparently, had little to no effect on the people that repeated this sad act all over again.

Humans have the unique ability to feel empathy, but it is their selfish nature that causes them to often forget to help others. In this situation, the humans did not even think to save the allegedly dying dolphin because they were so absorbed in getting the perfect picture for social media. Meanwhile, dogs around the world have made news for spotting dolphins in need and springing into action to help.

Watch the video below to see the baby dolphin.

Reposted with permission from our media associate True Activist.

Sponsored

82 False Killer Whales Dead in Massive Stranding Off Everglades National Park

Ninety-five false killer whales were stranded off the coast of Hog Key in Florida's Everglades National Park over the weekend.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) wrote in a Facebook post this morning that 82 animals are now confirmed dead and 13 are unaccounted for. Earlier reports put the death toll at 81.

Officials told the Miami Herald that this is the largest recorded stranding of such species in Florida.

False killer whales belong to the dolphin family and get their name due to their resemblance to orcas. Females reach lengths of 15 feet and males are almost 20 feet. Adult false killer whales can weigh approximately 1,500 pounds.

The U.S Coast Guard first spotted the stranding on Saturday near Hog Key, which is located in a dense network of islands off south west Florida.

According to the Palm Beach Post, a rescue team reached the false killer whales—which included adults, juveniles and calves—by Sunday but could not save the vast majority of them.

"Once on the scene, the response team attempted to herd the whales into deeper water, however, they were ultimately unsuccessful in that effort," NOAA's mammal stranding network Blair Mase explained to the publication.

Mase said that the false killer whales were beached and scattered along the shoreline in poor condition and "deeply embedded in the mangroves," making the effort to rescue them nearly impossible. Rescuers had to humanely euthanize nine of the animals. Seventy-two of the dolphins died on their own on Sunday.

NOAA said that response teams are now working to assess the scene, but its remote location makes it challenging to gain access. The National Park Service is conducting aerial flyovers to help make it easier for the response teams to enter the area by boat.

It is currently unclear why the massive stranding occurred. In the coming months, biologists will conduct necropsies to determine what exactly happened, NOAA said.

Local marine biologist Stefanie Wolf told FOX 4 Now that one theory behind the stranding could be due to the pod getting lost and entangled in the area's thick maze of mangroves.

"Down in that area of Everglades National Park it's very shallow—very easily for even a human to get lost navigating through those waters," Wolf said, adding that the pod might not have been able to use their echolocation to find their way around.

As the FOX 4 reporter noted, while strandings are rare, when they do happen they usually happen in large groups because the dolphins are social animals.

U.S. Navy-Trained Dolphins to Round Up Nearly Extinct Vaquita in Controversial Plan

A controversial, last-ditch plan to round up the last remaining vaquitas—a critically endangered porpoise found only in the Sea of Cortez—may get underway this spring with the aid of U.S. Navy-trained bottlenose dolphins. The vaquitas would be placed in a protected enclosure while efforts are made to get illegal fishing in the area under control.

The population of these small porpoises has reached the point where they face imminent extinction. A report by marine conservationists issued in May 2016 estimated that less than 60 vaquitas remain.

Their numbers have dropped dramatically in the last 20 years. There were 567 individuals in 1997, 245 in 2008 and just under 100 in 2014. The report puts a high probability on extinction within five years.

Vaquita refuge established in 2005 where gillnet fishing is prohibited.National Geographic

The Mexican government has been working with local fishermen to save the species. In 2005, Mexico established a refuge off San Felipe in the Gulf of California. Gillnet fishing was banned in the refuge. The government is spending $74 million to compensate fishermen and encourage them to use safer fishing methods.

For a time, it worked. Although the population continued to decline, it did so at a slower rate. Scientists hoped it would soon turn around and begin to recover.

But they didn't count on China.

The country's newly-minted millionaires stimulated a demand for dried fish bladders. Called fish maw, they are alleged to possess medicinal properties including the ability to increase fertility. The source of those fish bladders: the Mexican totoaba, a critically endangered fish found in the same waters as the vaquita.

Totoaba bladders are worth up to $5,000 per kilogram and can command as much as $100,000 on the black market in China, according to a 2016 report by the Environmental Investigation Agency. They can be found at retailers in major Chinese cities as well as online sites such as Alibaba. Poachers often take their boats out at night, and use gillnets under the cover of darkness to round up as many totoaba as they can. The vaquita are merely bycatch, caught up in the nets where they often drown or die from stress.

Fish maw wholesaler in Shantou, China (c) EIAEnvironmental Investigation Agency

Details of the plan to save the vaquita are still being worked out.

Plans may involve using dolphins from the Navy Marine Mammal Program, which has studied, trained and deployed these highly intelligent animals since the 1950s. Dolphins would be used to help locate vaquitas. They would then be coaxed into lightweight surface gillnets. It's never been done before with vaquitas, but harbor porpoises in Greenland have been captured safely in a similar manner.

Sponsored
Nanuq was held captive at SeaWorld properties. Sea Shepherd Conservation Society / Nicolas Dumenil

3 Pictures That Will Make You Think Twice Before Visiting a Marine Park

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society launched a series of images today illustrating the tragic fates met by real-life captive cetaceans.

The images come just as the holiday season begins and families are making choices about how to spend their money on entertainment. The pictures are being published to educate and deter travelers around the world from buying tickets to marine shows, swim-with-dolphin programs and other similar animal encounter experiences.

The photos, featuring a dolphin, beluga and orca, respectively, show each animal breaking the water with their backs. Drops splash around them as they land from an aerial trick. Upon closer look, the viewer will see the drops of water are, in fact, broken glass. Each visual is accompanied by text that tells the true story of the mammal in the poster.

Sharky was held captive at SeaWorld properties.Sea Shepherd Conservation Society / Nicolas Dumenil

"That was the idea behind this campaign—to look closer and see what really happens to animals in marine parks," said Nicolas Dumenil, the Paris-based art director who created the designs for Sea Shepherd. "Going from a splash of water to a smash of glass was a simple but powerful way to illustrate the cruel reality of captivity. Marine parks work hard to hide what people should not see and work harder to engage in disinformation each time an animal dies in their parks."

Dumenil said he wanted to use stories of actual captive marine mammals for the campaign to remember and honor all of those who met similar tragic fates. The hardest part was choosing which ones to spotlight, especially as new deaths occurred, including the November 2016 passing of Aurora and Quila, a mother and daughter beluga pair who died nine days apart at the Vancouver Aquarium.

"Who will be next?" asked Dumenil. "Bucky, the 47-year old captive dolphin in Australia who is still jumping through hoops despite his history of cancer?"

Hugo was kept at the Miami SeaquariumSea Shepherd Conservation Society / Nicolas Dumenil

The art director said he grew up surfing in the oceans as a child and as such, was always concerned with the marine life around him.

"Now that I'm in a creative position, I felt it was time to take action," stated Dumenil. "I have long admired Sea Shepherd's commitment to save marine wildlife and am honored to team with them on this campaign. I hope the real-life stories of Hugo, Sharky and Nanuq can serve as reminders that animals are not here for our entertainment and must not be held prisoners, deprived from their natural settings and social structures."

Sharky and Nanuq were both held captive at SeaWorld properties, while Hugo was kept at the Miami Seaquarium. SeaWorld and other similar facilities have come under fire in recent years with blistering campaigns by animal activists since the 2013 release of the SeaWorld-critical documentary Blackfish.

"Every year Sea Shepherd's Cove Guardians document the atrocious dolphin drives in Taiji, Japan, where cetaceans are being slaughtered, torn apart from their families and transported to concentration camps masquerading as marine parks," Sea Shepherd Founder, president and CEO Captain Paul Watson said. "Nicolas' images are a wakeup call for those who think these animals actually like spinning in the air and giving rides to trainers on their backs."

Sea Shepherd COO David Hance agreed. "Having witnessed firsthand the atrocities in Taiji, I can attest to just how horrific life is as a captive prisoner in these parks," he said. "A captive life is no life for any animal. I hope everyone can make the humane and moral choice not to support marine parks this holiday season, or any season for that matter."

Everglades Dolphins Have Highest Level of Mercury Ever

Researchers have discovered that bottlenose dolphins residing off the Florida Everglades have higher concentrations of mercury contamination than any other population of the mammals in the world.

Contamination levels of mercury (T-Hg) in Lower Florida Keys (LFK) and the Florida Coastal Everglades (FCE) dolphinsScience Direct

The study, published in the journal Environmental Pollution, examined the levels of mercury and other toxins in the sea creatures. According to the research, mercury concentrations in the skin of Florida Coastal Everglades dolphins (median 9314 ng g−1 dw) were about three times higher than Lower Florida Keys dolphins (median 2941 ng g−1 dw).

"These concentrations are the highest recorded in bottlenose dolphins in the southeastern USA, and may be explained, at least partially, by the biogeochemistry of the Everglades and mangrove sedimentary habitats that create favorable conditions for the retention of mercury and make it available at high concentrations for aquatic predators," the study abstract states.

The research team includes scientists from Florida International University (FIU), the University of Liège in Belgium, the University of Gronigen in the Netherlands and the Tropical Dolphin Research Foundation in the U.S.

It is unclear where exactly the mercury comes from but the scientists suspect it might stem from smoke stacks, nearby farming operations or from the area's numerous mangroves in Everglades National Park. As FIU News explained, when mangrove leaves drop into the water, mercury from the mangroves mixes with bacteria and is turned into methylmercury. Methylmercury is highly toxic and can travel up the food chain, as it collects in animal tissue in larger and larger amounts. (That's why predators like dolphins, swordfish and tuna have troubling levels of mercury.)

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Dolphins that live in the Amazon and other mangrove forests also have elevated mercury levels, but the researchers were surprised to find that the mercury levels in Everglades dolphins were even higher.

"I couldn't believe those levels because that's the highest ever recorded," FIU marine scientist Jeremy Kiszka, a co-author of the study, told the Miami Herald. "It raises a lot of other questions."

The study is important because dolphins are a vital "sentinel species," meaning they shed light on oceanic and human health. So if a dolphin is swimming in contaminated waters, a person living by the same coastal waters might also be exposed to the same contamination. As the Miami Herald noted, researchers discovered last year that Indian River Lagoon dolphins had elevated mercury levels, reflecting the high levels of mercury in the nearby human population.

Similarly, since dolphins and humans eat the same kind of seafood, if a dolphin gets sick from eating toxic fish, a person who eats the same toxic fish might get sick too.

For humans, mercury can have a whole host of terrifying problems. As for what effects mercury has on dolphins, FIU News explained that the chemical can disrupt the animal's immune system and reproduction, making them more vulnerable to infection and disease.

"Mercury is one of the most neurotoxic elements in the universe," World Mercury Project president Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who was not involved in the study, explained to EcoWatch. "The destruction of these extraordinary creatures is part of the cost of our deadly addiction to coal and chemicals. We shouldn't forget that these dolphins are accumulating these horrifying brain poisons from the same fish that our children eat."

The scientists are now trying to expand their study on other marine animals.

"Understanding the impact of pollutants on marine ecosystems, including from natural sources, is critical for conservation and management. Results obtained on bottlenose dolphins from the Everglades were surprising, but we now need to assess the effect of mercury on the health of dolphins and other species from the Everglades," Kiszka told FIU News. "This is a critical question for understanding the effects of pollutants on aquatic ecosystems, but also on humans, since we are also part of these ecosystems."

mail-copy

Get EcoWatch in your inbox