That word for the phenomenon was coined by Dana Point Whale Watching, who posted a Youtube video of hundreds to thousands of common dolphins swimming in one direction March 19.
"This is pretty phenomenal," a voice can be heard exclaiming in the footage.
The tour company, which has operated out of the Orange County city that gives it its name for the last 50 years, kept pace with the massing dolphins for around four hours, HuffPost reported.
"The dolphins take off so fast they turn up the water making it white water," the tour company wrote in the video description. "You can hear them swimming through the rushing water. They are so graceful even in the frenzied behavior and we are so amazed to see them right of[f] our coast."
A large group of dolphins is actually known as a super or mega pod, according to HuffPost. The marine mammals usually travel in pods of 200 or fewer. But sometimes, they merge when food concentrates in a single area.
This isn't the first time the phenomenon has been recorded. One of the most spectacular instances was in 2013, when as many as 100,000 dolphins were spotted off the San Diego coast, as NBC 7 San Diego reported at the time. The superpod covered a five by seven mile stretch of ocean.
"They're definitely social animals, they stick together in small groups," Marine mammal expert Sarah Wilkin told NBC7 San Diego at the time. "But sometimes, the schools come together."
What is unique to Dana Point Whale Watching is their word choice. Some commenters objected to the term dolphin stampede.
"'Stampede' is a poor description," one Youtube commenter wrote. "It implies that this is a panicked, clumsy mass movement of animals. I have driven in a boat through a super-pod such as this, and these animals are anything but that. They are graceful and controlled. It's a beautiful thing to see."
However, most internet users were just grateful for the sight. The video went "viral" with around 25,000 views and more than 400 likes as of Monday, The Hill reported. As of Tuesday, the number of views had nearly doubled to 45,625.
As the tour company wrote on Instagram, "Who doesn't love a dolphin stampede!"
Dolphins around the world developed "fresh-water skin disease (FWSD)" when influxes of freshwater drastically reduced the salinity of coastal waters, causing the cetaceans' skin to take on water to the point of cells bursting, explained Pádraig Duignan, chief pathologist at The Marine Mammal Center (TMMC) in Sausalito, CA.
Duignan and his fellow researchers identified the novel skin disease by focusing on two separate dolphin die-offs that happened in 2007 and 2009.
"They were having these die-offs in dolphins, and we didn't know what they were," Duignan said. "We couldn't find a link to any disease that had been described in the literature before. Then we looked to all this data. Sure enough, we saw that it's part of a pattern."
Searching for underlying causes, Duignan and his co-authors examined the skin and lesions of dolphins who had died with this condition. They found that it was not a viral disease, one of the initial hypotheses. Access to long-term physico-chemical water quality data from permanent monitoring systems revealed the surprising culprit: freshwater.
It turns out that "sudden, dramatic and prolonged" exposure to freshwater causes devastating skin damage in dolphins that the researchers have since called FWSD, said Nahiid Stephens, second author on the study and veterinary pathology lecturer at Murdoch University in Perth, Western Australia. Because dolphins have evolved over millennia to live in marine environments, they cannot adapt to such drastic changes to salinity, Stephens explained.
When inundated with freshwater, the dolphins' skin cells become dull as they start to take on water through osmosis. The cells swell and inflame until some pop and create holes, in a few days at most, Duignan told EcoWatch. The holes turn into ulcers and lesions, which are a complete breach in the skin, within a few weeks. The skin no longer can serve as a healthy barrier against the outside world, exposing body tissues and allowing for a loss of fluids, salts, electrolytes and essential elements, he added. Loss of essential solutes and proteins can lead to organ dysfunction, shock and death. Badly damaged skin can also open the door for secondary opportunistic infectious organisms such as fungi, bacteria, and algae, Stephens said.
Both researchers compared the skin lesions to a severe third-degree burn.
"Some of these animals lose 70% of their skin. There's no way back from that in the wild," Duignan said.
The study, which was published in the journal Scientific Reports, also mentioned anecdotal reports from around the world of similar outbreaks. Dolphins in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and Texas have suffered from what appears to have been FWSD in the wake of rainfall surges and flooding post-Hurricanes Katrina (2005) and Harvey (2017), Stephens said. Similarly, Duignan mentioned a humpback whale and her calf that got caught up the Sacramento River for 20 days.
"Their skin started showing these changes and sloughing to visible ulcers," the pathologist said. "After 20 days, the whales got back to the San Francisco bay and the ocean, and within a day of being back, their skin improved. They got back in saline water in time, so they survived."
Stephens explained to EcoWatch, "Common to all outbreaks in all locations was a preceding extreme weather event with extensive rainfall which causes a sudden, significant influx of freshwater into an enclosed to semi-enclosed body of water, which is normally brackish to marine in nature, causing a sudden, dramatic, and persistent drop in salinity to become freshwater. So finally we accepted that the cause was not infectious, but environmental."
The study also examined their data and hypothesis against the extensive studies and climate crisis modeling worldwide that predict that severe weather events will increase in frequency and intensity, Stephens said. These weather events are likely to trigger the sudden dramatic freshwater surges required to trigger the environmental fluctuations that cause FWSD, so the scientists made the link to climate change, she explained.
"We are concerned now about how this is being seen more frequently," Duignan said. "This year was a record hurricane season, and who knows about next year. More Katrinas and more Harveys might be on their way, and each time, this will be happening to the dolphins. I think it will get worse."
He concluded, "People are probably getting sick of hearing about climate change, but it's fundamental to everything right now. This is just another example of a disease happening to animals that never happened before. This is all because of the climate and ultimately we're to blame for it."
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The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
Thousands of years ago, glacial runoff from Mount Kilimanjaro formed a deep basin off the coast of East Africa. Today, this oasis of deep, cool water provides coral reefs and marine life with a sanctuary from the rising temperatures of the climate crisis, allowing biodiversity to thrive.
"This area off the coast of Tanzania and Kenya is a small but vibrant basin of marine biodiversity," study author and lead WCS coral scientist Dr. Tim McClanahan said in a press release. "Our study shows that while warming waters may devastate surrounding reefs, this area could become an incredibly important sanctuary where marine species big and small will flock to find refuge from climate change. If well protected, this key transboundary marine ecosystem will remain a jewel of biodiversity for the entire East African coast."
The newly discovered refuge is teaming with marine life. Spinner dolphins swim there, and the coast has the highest density of dolphins in East Africa, The Guardian reported. Rare dugongs have been spotted there, and the deeper reaches are home to coelacanths, a prehistoric fish once believed to be extinct.
McClanahan did not immediately understand why so much life was drawn to this spot, which stretches from Shimoni, Kenya, which is 50 miles south of Mombasa, to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.
"I thought 'why are all the animals here?' And I realised it was because of Kilimanjaro," he told The Guardian.
The sea surface temperatures of the tropical Indian Ocean have risen about one degree Celsius on average between 1950 and 2015, according to an Assessment of Climate Change over the Indian Region. In addition, the ocean has been subjected to greater and more frequent marine heatwaves, WCS explained. In this context, the cooler waters off of Kenya and Tanzania could provide an increasingly vital habitat for threatened species like sharks and rays.
To test whether this was indeed the case, McClanahan installed temperature gauges along the coast that he could then monitor by satellite, according to The Guardian. Once a warming event occurred and the temperatures began to rise, he entered the water to observe how the corals were impacted, and found that they were indeed preserved.
"Outside that area, the corals are bleached and dying. But inside the area, of around 400 sq km [150 sq miles] they retain their colour and their health. They are reds and brown. My research partner likes to call them: 'happy corals'," McClanahan told The Guardian.
He explained to InsideClimate News exactly how this works.
"It would be like running hot water into a cold bathtub; if the bath is cold, it would take a long time to warm up," he said. "By the time these hot water events pass, they haven't really raised the temperature of the water all that much. So you maintain these coral sanctuaries where the water is cool."
However, the area's role as a coral sanctuary will depend on its being protected from other threats. Coastal development, including a new port planned in northern Tanzania to serve a new oil pipeline, is one, WCS said. Another is unsustainable fishing practices like dynamite fishing, McClanahan told InsideClimate News. This is when fisherpeople drop a stick of dynamite into the water to kill massive amounts of fish in one go. Unsurprisingly, this also destroys coral.
"Some of the reefs that I've been studying suggest they can't recover for many, many years after the dynamite fishing," McClanahan told InsideClimate News.
Life-sized, ultra-realistic robotic dolphins could help end animal captivity by replacing living creatures in aquariums and theme parks.
Edge Innovations, a New Zealand company that created of some of Hollywood's most famous animatronic animals from movies like "Free Willy" and "Flipper," has developed robot dolphins that look and act almost identical to their living counterparts. This is "bringing art and technology to life," its website says.
Edge hopes its designs will be used in movies and aquatic theme parks instead of living animals. If the idea is expanded, swimmers could dive with life-like robot dolphins, great white sharks, or even Jurrasic-era marine reptiles, The Independent reported.
According to The Guardian, the first phase of the prototype's development was sponsored by a Chinese development group that pledged in a statement to use the robotic animals instead of live ones in new aquariums being built.
Test audiences were unable to tell that the dolphin was not real, The Guardian reported. The model dolphin is controlled remotely by humans and can interact as a natural dolphin would.
"Everyone wants to know if using an animatronic dolphin is different than using a real dolphin, Roger Holzberg, Edge's creative director of their animatronics program, told Aljazeera. "The truth is, in many ways, they're the same."
But, because it is a robot, Edge's dolphin can also nod yes in response to a child, swim in a tiny tank in a mall or a chlorinated pool, and withstand very close contact that would be harmful to real animals, The Guardian reported.
"We realized that using animatronics instead of using live animals enabled us to create characters that truly were loveable, that could really deliver on the idea that we won't hurt what we fall in love with," Holzberg told Aljazeera.
Animatronics could also help bring back audiences turned off by aquatic parks using live animals and turn the industry around, reported Reuters.
"The marine park industry has had falling revenues for over a decade due to ethical concerns and the cost of live animals, yet the public hunger to learn about and experience these animals is still as strong as ever," Holzberg told The Guardian. "We believe that it's time to reimagine this industry and that this approach can be more humane, and more profitable at the same time."
The cost would be around $26.3 million per animal, four times the amount of a natural dolphin.
"We have to persuade [potential clients] that it is a profitable business, even more profitable than live animals," Li Wang, a business developer for Edge, told The Guardian. Wang pointed out that the robots do not require the same expensive caretaking or carefully monitored water temperatures as real dolphins do. Edge noted also that the robots will "outlive" their wild counterparts, who typically die within 20 years in captivity, the news report said. Wild dolphins live between 30 to 50 years.
According to Reuters, animal rights group PETA is in support and even held an event featuring the prototype dolphin.
PETA activist Katherine Sullivan told The Independent that the invention could help usher in the end of "cruel 'swim with dolphins' programs, for which young dolphins are traumatically abducted from their ocean homes and frantic mothers, sometimes illegally."
"In 2020, cutting-edge technology allows us to experience nature without harming it," PETA's UK director, Elisa Allen, told The Guardian.
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Pilot whales, sperm whales, beaked whales and deep-sea dolphins are the marine mammals most commonly involved in mass strandings. Baleen whales, on the other hand, a group to which all big whales except the sperm whale belong, strand very rarely.
If these mammals become stranded, they can dry out, overheat, suffocate or suffer severe inner injuries because of their enormous dead weight.
Individual strandings have been observed at many locations, while most mass strandings have been registered in Western Australia, New Zealand (with up to 300 stranded whales annually), and on the east coast of North America and Patagonia (Chile). Occasionally, however, there are also mass strandings in the North Sea.
How Do Whales and Dolphins Navigate?
Like migratory birds, some whale species travel great distances every year. In winter, whales migrate from the cold northern seas to warmer waters in the south, and whales from southern waters move to the north in the same season. Months later, they then begin to travel back home.
The smaller toothed whales, such as dolphins, have a powerful underwater sonar. They orient themselves on their journeys by emitting sound waves in the form of clicking noises. When these sound waves collide with an object, they are reflected back as echoes to the animals' ears, which in the case of whales are shielded from the skull in foam-filled chambers inside the body to enable spatial hearing. The faster the sound returns, the closer the prey, an obstacle or the coast.
However, in the case of the large baleen whales, which have horn plates (baleen) instead of teeth in their upper jaws for filtering krill, animal plankton and small fish from the water, this underwater sonar is not very highly developed.
This echolocation works very well as a rule. However, sound reflection does not function reliably in certain circumstances, particularly when there are shallow or semicircular bays, sandy underwater embankments or silt banks. These types of coasts and obstacles do not produce an unambiguous echo from any particular direction, so the warning system fails.
What Influence Does the Earth's Magnetic Field Have?
Whales such as the pilot whale do not use just underwater sonar to orient themselves, but — again, like migratory birds — seem to rely on the lines of the earth's magnetic field, as their migration routes often run parallel to those lines. The slight fluctuations of the earth's magnetic field appear to function like a kind of map.
Magnetite crystals have been found in the skulls of these animals. The whales could be confused by disturbances of the geomagnetic field near the coast. Magnetic fields running perpendicular to the mainland are also thought to play a role in mass strandings of whales in certain coastal regions.
Every few years, solar storms and sunspots that occur amid heightened activity on the sun's surface also cause fairly large changes in the Earth's magnetic field. It is at such times that sperm whales, for example, which also use geomagnetism as a natural navigation system, get lost and become stranded in the North Sea.
Why Do Whales and Dolphins Become Stranded?
Navigational errors are thus believed to be the main cause of whale strandings, but all the reasons have not yet been conclusively investigated.
One of them is certainly the social behavior of many whale species, which travel in groups, so-called pods, and are guided by a leader. For example, in the case of sperm whales, a male leads the way from the Arctic Ocean back into warmer waters. By contrast, when orcas are on their travels, a mother or grandmother leads the group.
If leaders lose their orientation, perhaps because they are confused or because parasites have attacked their ears, rendering them incapable of hearing the echoes of the clicking sounds that have been sent, the accompanying animals will follow them in the wrong direction. If a leader is stuck in shallow waters, the rest of the group stays with it, even if this means their certain doom.
Sometimes, as has been observed, for example, with orcas on the South African coast, this group cohesion can go so far that whales who have already been saved after a mass stranding return to the beach if another stranded whale calls for help.
But strandings can also have other natural causes. Sometimes, smaller dolphins become beached because they have taken refuge from orcas and other predators in shallower waters or because they have ventured too far into shallow areas when hunting shoals of fish.
Occasionally, individual animals are also washed ashore dead after being previously injured by collisions with ships, fishing nets or shark attacks or becoming ill from infections or parasite infestation.
Which Human Influences Exacerbate the Situation?
In addition to natural factors, man-made underwater noise from ships, icebreakers, drilling platforms or military sonar equipment can also massively impair the orientation and communication of marine mammals. They flee the strong sound waves in a state of confusion. And since the density of water is much higher than that of air, sound propagates underwater about five times faster than in the air.
Military sonar operations employing very loud sounds have particularly drastic effects. After NATO maneuvers, for example, beaked whales have washed up dead on the coasts of Cyprus, the Canary Islands and the Bahamas. The sonars, which are louder than 200 decibels, triggered the formation of gas bubbles in the blood vessels and organs of marine mammals (as happens with diving sickness), obstructing the blood supply and leading to their death.
How Can You Help Stranded Whales and Dolphins?
When a whale stranding is discovered, there is usually not much time left. Teams of helpers can do little more than try to cool the stranded animals, keep them moist and combine forces to get the heavy animals back into the sea as quickly and gently as possible.
In some countries, hotlines have been set up so that as many helpers as possible can be mobilized quickly. For many exhausted animals, however, even these immediate measures often come too late.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
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By Andrea Germanos
The federal government and fossil fuel industry announced at a legal hearing Thursday that seismic blasting will not be carried out in the Atlantic Ocean this year—and possibly not in the near future either—a development welcomed by conservation groups who lobbied forcefully against what they said would have been an "unjustified acoustic attack on our oceans."
"Communities can breathe a little easier knowing the Atlantic is now safe from seismic airgun blasting in 2020," said Oceana campaign director Diane Hoskins, who called the news "a bright spot and in line with the court of public opinion."
Confirmation of the pause on the blasting, an initial step in searching for offshore oil, came at a status conference for ongoing litigation over the issuance of so-called Incidental Harassment Authorizations (IHAs) that would have allowed fossil fuel companies to "incidentally, but not intentionally, harass marine mammals" including the endangered North Atlantic right whale, humpback whale, and bottlenose dolphin.
The risk was particularly acute for the right whale. Alice M. Keyes, vice president of coastal conservation for One Hundred Miles, warned that "seismic blasting in the Atlantic would sound the death knell for this magnificent species."
Ocean conservation advocates have long sounded alarm about widespread harms caused by airgun tests that "generate the loudest human sounds in the ocean, short of those made by explosives" and can trigger hearing loss in marine mammals that rely on echolocation. Such blasts can be "repeated every 10 seconds, 24 hours a day, for days to weeks at a time."
Confirming a legal filing from Tuesday, government attorneys said Thursday that the IHAs in question expire at the end of November, and there is no legal or regulatory ability to extend them. Industry lawyers also indicated to the judge at the tele-hearing that even if they were issued new permits, it was unfeasible to begin seismic testing this year. Moreover, acquiring new permits is a lengthy process.
"There will be no boats in the water this year, and because this resets the clock, there will be no boats in the water for a long time," said Catherine Wannamaker, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center.
Beyond the direct harm from seismic surveys, ocean defenders pointed to the folly of looking for more fossil fuels amid the deepening climate crisis.
"Seismic blasting harms whales in the search for offshore oil that we should leave in the ground. We can't allow the oil industry's greed to threaten endangered North Atlantic right whales and other vulnerable species," said Kristen Monsell, ocean legal director with the Center for Biological Diversity.
"We're happy these animals will have a reprieve from this unjustified acoustic attack on our oceans," she said, vowing to "keep fighting to ensure the oil industry stays out of the Atlantic."
That necessitates a full ban on offshore drilling activities, said Michael Jasny, director of the Marine Mammal Protection Project at NRDC.
"The only way to end the threat," he said, "is to prohibit offshore oil and gas exploration for good."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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Protestors filled the streets of Mauritius's capital city, Port Louis, over the weekend to demand resignations of officials and an investigation into the oil spill that has jeopardized the future health of the country's marine reserves, according to Reuters. The protests were catalyzed by more than a dozen dead dolphins with traces of oil washing up on Mauritian beaches.
After the initial wave of dead dolphins, the government revised the number of dead whales and dolphins, bringing the total up to 39, according to Forbes.
Roughly 100,000 people filled the streets on Saturday, according to The Independent, marking it the largest protest the island nation has seen in 40 years. On Saturday, the protestors were dressed in black and held drawings of dolphins and signs saying, "citizens wake up citizens." Others held signs that said, "Dolphin Lives Matter."
Some protestors carried Mauritian flags and draped them around statues, including one of Queen Victoria.
The demand for the march came from an ordinary citizen, Jean Bruneau Laurette, a maritime security expert who has taken a strong stance against the country's prime minister. Laurette has insisted that the government is hiding information about the oil spill and has filed a case in court against the country's environmental ministry, according to Agence-France Presse (AFP).
Some in the peaceful protest called for the government to step down. They wore t-shirts that read, "I love my country. I'm ashamed of my country," according to the BBC.
The normally idyllic island is a paradise tourist destination known for its warm waters and vibrant marine life. It seldom sees political movements rise up, underscoring the anger felt by the citizens over what some experts have called an ecological disaster.
One demonstrator told the BBC: "I am present today because we want the truth. They didn't do anything when the ship approached our coastline – 12 days they didn't do anything until the oil spill and now thousands of people and marine people are affected."
The ship the woman referred to is the Japanese cargo ship the MV Wakashio, which was awaiting instructions about its next port after delivering goods, when it struck a coral reef on July 25. The damage to the ship's hull caused the ship to leak roughly 1,000 tons of fuel and to break apart.
The larger part of the boat was dragged out to sea where it was allowed to sink, while the remaining third sunk where the ship struck the corals. The government's handling of the crash and the sinking of the ship have drawn anger from the public.
As The Independent reported, Christian Merle, 18, said, "This didn't have to happen. It is sheer incompetence. What did [the government] do during those nearly two weeks between [the bulk carrier MV] Wakashio running aground and the oil spill? Nothing! Nothing!"
"This rally is an occasion to send a message to tell [Prime Minister] Pravind Jugnauth he has messed up," marcher Jocelyne Leung, 35, told AFP.
"This is the first time that a citizens' demonstration has gathered such a big crowd," said Ajay Gunness who holds the number two post in the opposition party, as the AFP reported.
The demonstration was not just confined to Port Louis. Demonstrators who have a connection to Mauritius turned out in solidarity in cities around the work including in Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Switzerland, France, Luxembourg, Germany and the UK, as Forbes reported.
Hans Balgobin, 31, demonstrated in front of the High Commission of Mauritius in London. "Mauritian society is unique," he said, as The Independent reported. We all mix together and we live in mutual dignity. I was present today to show my support from abroad."
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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."
This incident must be investigated fully and transparently!— Greenpeace Africa (@Greenpeaceafric) August 26, 2020
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 >> https://t.co/OHBtIChDzf #BreakFreeFromFossilFuels
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."
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New toxins and chemicals entering the market are bombarding the ocean and its inhabitants on an unprecedented scale, according to the research that was published Wednesday in Frontiers in Marine Science, as CNN reported. Large ocean mammals that washed up ashore between 2012 and 2018 are similar to a canary in a coal mine, according to Courthouse News, since these animals retain chemical deposits in their blubber and offer a window into the health of the larger ocean ecosystem.
The animals tested comprised toothed whales, which include dolphins, porpoises and other whales like the melon-headed whale and the Cuvier's beaked whale, according to CNN.
"Marine mammals are ecosystem sentinels that reflected anthropogenic threats through their health — which has implications for human health as well," says lead author assistant professor Annie Page-Karjian of the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic University, in a statement.
"For example, many of the species in this study prey upon fishes that are also preferred species for human consumption — so monitoring concentrations of contaminants in these animals provides a relatively low-cost snapshot of the potential exposure risk in humans, as well as other marine animals."
The stranded animals included 11 different species, providing the first evidence for two rarer species: white-beaked dolphin and Gervais' beaked whales, according to Frontiers in Marine Science. The stranded animals represented males and females, young and old, which allowed the scientists to look at differences between the groups.
The results showed that species such as bottlenose dolphins had higher amounts of lead and mercury in their system than pygmy sperm whales. Female bottlenose dolphins had higher levels of arsenic than their male counterparts. Dolphins stranded in Florida displayed higher concentrations of lead, mercury and selenium and lower iron levels than those stranded in North Carolina, according to Courthouse News.
These toxic chemicals mostly enter the ecosystem from the burning of fossil fuels and mining, said Alistair Dove, vice president of research and conservation at the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, to CNN. Dove was not involved in the study.
Dolphins like to eat a wide variety of fish, many of which are also eaten by people. For example, dolphins are known to enjoy shrimp and octopus, and on the U.S. East Coast, dolphins like to eat animals like herring, mackerel and flounder, said Page-Karjian, as CNN reported.
"If humans eat a lot of fish that contain too much arsenic and mercury, these metals can poison the liver and other organs, or cause neurological damage to the brain and nervous system," said Dove to CNN.
As Courthouse News noted, the most oceanic pollution begins on land. Septic tanks, vehicles, farms and ranches all use or produce pollutants that eventually make their way into the ocean thanks to runoff. Trash produced far inland eventually makes its way into the ocean via rivers and canals. The scientists note that curbing this upstream pollution from runoff and the use of single plastics would go a long way to helping the oceans heal.
"If we reduce the use of fossil fuels, we can slow the rate of climate change and put fewer pollutants into the ocean," Dove said to CNN. "This applies to mercury, which most often comes from coal-fired power plants, and even plastics, which are ultimately produced from natural gas."
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By Fino Menezes
Everyone adores dolphins. Intelligent, inquisitive and playful, these special creatures have captivated humans since the dawn of time. But dolphins didn't get to where they are by accident — they needed to develop some pretty amazing superpowers to cope with their environment.
These extraordinarily intelligent creatures have been seen to display culture, use tools, and display altruism, traits long-thought to be unique to humans. Facebook / BrightVibes
Adapting to Life in the Ocean Required Some Serious Skills for a Mammal
Dolphins have developed some incredible abilities that continue to amaze researchers.
Everything needs to sleep, but dolphins have found a clever workaround. They shut down only half their brain at a time while the other half remains conscious and takes over all functions. What's more, the mammals seem to be able to remain continually vigilant for sounds for days on end.
Besides sonar, which is itself pretty incredible, dolphins have excellent eyesight. A panoramic range of vision of 300° allows them to see in two directions at once and even behind themselves — both in and out of the water.
3. Super Skin
Dolphin skin grows about 9 times faster than ours, and an entire layer of skin is replaced every two hours. Their skin secretes a special non-stick antibacterial gel to deter barnacles and parasites.
4. They Rescue Other Species
There are many tales of dolphins helping humans in the high sea. Sometimes they'll even go out of their way to help other aquatic species.
Bottlenose dolphins can hold their breath for 12 minutes and dive to 550 metres (1800ft) due to hyper-efficient lungs. Dolphins have more red blood cells with greater concentrations of hemoglobin than we do.
Scientists are baffled by dolphins' ability to not only heal quickly but seemingly regenerate missing parts. And dolphins won't bleed to death despite huge wounds, having the ability to constrict blood vessels to stem the flow.
While an Olympic swimmer can produce around 60 or 70 pounds of thrust, a dolphin is capable of 300 to 400 pounds of thrust and is one of the oceans most efficient swimmers.
How dolphins are able to swim with open wounds in the bacteria-riddled ocean and not die of infection, scientists still don't know for sure, but the best guess is that dolphins have managed to siphon off antibiotics made by plankton and algae.
Dolphins can actually sense the electrical impulses given off by all living things. They probably use this ability to hunt fish in turbid water and muddy sediments.
These extraordinarily intelligent and graceful creatures have also been seen to display culture, use tools, and display altruism, traits long-thought to be unique to humans.
Reposted with permission from BrightVibes.
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The population of a marine parasite that sometimes worms its way into sushi has increased by 283 times in the last nearly 40 years, a University of Washington (UW)-led study has found.
The study, published in Global Change Biology Thursday, reviewed the literature and found a significant rise in the abundance of the parasite Anisakis, or "herring worm." This isn't especially concerning for humans, who experience the worm as a nasty bout of food poisoning that then resolves, but it could have serious consequences for marine mammals, who play host to the parasites for years.
"One of the important implications of this study is that now we know there is this massive, rising health risk to marine mammals," study coauthor and UW School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences assistant professor Chelsea Wood said in the UW press release. "It's not often considered that parasites might be the reason that some marine mammal populations are failing to bounce back. I hope this study encourages people to look at intestinal parasites as a potential cap on the population growth of endangered and threatened marine mammals."
The next time you eat sashimi, nigiri or other forms of raw fish, consider doing a quick check for worms. 🍣😳 https://t.co/juL5dW2NDu— UW SAFS (@UW SAFS)1584649387.0
The researchers looked at a total of 123 papers published between 1967 and 2017 to assess how the abundance of two marine parasites had changed over time: Anisakis and another parasite known as Pseudoterranova, or "cod worm." Anisakis abundance rose 283-fold from 1978 to 2015, while Pseudoterranova abundance did not change. This means that Anisakis has risen from less than one for every 100 hosts caught to more than one in every host caught, ScienceAlert explained.
Ironically, while Anisakis might threaten the health of marine mammals, its rise may have been triggered by their success.
"My gut is that this is about the improvements we've made in marine mammal conservation," Wood told ScienceAlert. "The time frame of our study directly overlaps with when a bunch of really important marine mammal legislation went into effect like the Marine Mammal Protection Act in 1972 and the international whaling commission moratorium on commercial whaling which came in the 1980s."
The one wrinkle in this theory is which mammals usually play host to the worm. Anisakis hatches in the ocean and first infects small animals like shrimp, the UW explained. They then make their way up the food web as the shrimp are eaten by fish, who are eaten by bigger fish, until they end up in the intestines of Cetaceans like whales or dolphins. Here they can live and reproduce for years, reentering the ocean in the animals' feces to start the cycle again.
While Anisakis abundance has risen, Pseudoterranova, which typically infects fish, sea lions and seals, has not. However, seals and sea lions have done much better than whales, Wood told ScienceAlert, which means one would expect Pseudoterranova abundance to have increased instead. However, she speculated it was possible the parasite was actually increasing because it had fewer hosts to pass through.
Other factors that could have caused the rise include the climate crisis and increased runoff from fertilizers, according to the press release.
So what happens if humans happen to ingest one of the worms? Nausea and vomiting that is unpleasant, but temporary.
"When they enter the intestine of a human, it's a great disappointment to the worm. They're not going to be able to complete their life cycle there," Wood told New Scientist.
Wood said that sushi lovers shouldn't worry, as chefs were expert de-wormers.
"I still eat sushi all the time," she told New Scientist.
However, if you are concerned, just cut your nigiri in half and look for worms yourself, she advised in the press release.
The fishing operations that have had dolphins swept up as bycatch have meant that nearly 4 million dolphins have died since 1950 and the population of dolphins in the Indian Ocean has declined by nearly 80 percent, as The Guardian reported.
Those numbers just represent the dolphins killed directly as bycatch of drifting nets that trail behind large fishing boats and do not represent the number of dolphins, porpoises or whales killed by floating ghost nets, harpoons, other types of tuna fishing or animals that are injured and succumb to their wounds later. That means the actual number of dolphins killed from commercial fishing may actually be much higher, according to the study.
Looking at driftnets, which account for just over one-third of Indian Ocean commercial fisheries, the researchers were able to calculate that the number of dolphins, porpoises, and whales killed directly each year as bycatch peaked at around 100,000 from 2004 to 2006. That number has come down slightly and is now around 85,000 cetaceans annually, according to the study.
Unfortunately, the authors do not believe the decline in bycatch is the result of improved practices, which are essentially unregulated. Instead, they believe it reflects the declining dolphin population, according to The Guardian.
The study's lead author, Charles Anderson of the Manta Marine organization in the Maldives, estimated that the dolphin numbers had probably dropped to only 13 percent their pre-1980 levels, which is when large-scale tuna fishing in the Indian Ocean began, as The Guardian reported.
"Declining cetacean bycatch rates suggest that such levels of mortality are not sustainable," the study says. "Indeed, mean small cetacean abundance may currently be 13 percent of pre-fishery levels. None of these estimates are precise, but they do demonstrate the likely order of magnitude of the issue."
There are many limitations in obtaining the exact number of mammal deaths due to bycatch, one of the study's author's told The Guardian, especially considering that most dolphins caught up in driftnets were not registered and were likely tossed over the side of the boat. These types of nets also snare turtles, whales and sharks.
The researcher, Puti Liza Mustika, from James Cook University's College of Business, Law and Governance, clarified that most of the bycatch was dolphins and that there was some reliable data from observers on boats and from previous studies. However, as a researcher, some clearer numbers would be helpful.
"That bycatch number is alarming, but there are a lot of uncertainties because the datasets are insufficient," Mustika told The Guardian.
Adding to an element of uncertainty is that Iran and Indonesia, the countries that run the two largest tuna operations in the Indian Ocean, have no system of reporting cetacean bycatch. Consequently, Iran's average annual bycatch of 214,262 tons of tuna likely kills more than 30,000 dolphins, porpoises and whales every year, according to the study, as The Guardian reported.
"It's a painful death. Dolphins are clever, but because the net is very thin in the water, the dolphins' sonar misses them," said Mustika to The Guardian. She added that the impetus to solve the problem is on scientists and tech companies. "The solution has to be technology, as well as using fishing gears that are more sustainable. But banning these fishers is not a solution for developing countries."The study concluded that oversight is needed, saying its findings showed "the need for much improved monitoring, mitigation and management."
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