Increased global seafood demand to blame
Studies have shown that dolphin and human brains are very similar, even though they are not the same size.
Dolphins are one of the most intelligent mammals on the planet and can do many things that other primates can. From the ability to recognize themselves in mirrors, to passing on skills to younger members, dolphins are not as different from humans as one might think.
Now, hundreds of dolphins are washing up on shores around the world.
According to experts at the Observatoire Pelagis, a marine research station in La Rochelle, Franc, nearly 1,100 mutilated dolphins have washed up on France’s Atlantic coast since January of this year. “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,” said Willy Daubin, a member of La Rochelle University’s National Center for Scientific Research.
The sudden rise in washed-up dolphins can be attributed to the demand for fish in the area. Trawlers, or fishing boats, work in pairs by dragging a net between themselves to capture groups of fish. This can be used either at the bottom of the sea or in midwater, at a specific depth, which is where problems arise.
Since trawling nets are not selective in what they capture, dolphins often find themselves trapped in them. As mammals, dolphins must resurface to respire. Pinned by the trawling nets, the dolphins either suffocate or injure themselves while trying to escape. They also sustain injuries when crewmembers try to cut the mammals free, after being caught.
While 1,100 dolphins have washed up on shore, the number of dead dolphins may be up to 10 times greater, as many sink without a trace according to Lamya Essemlali, president of ecology campaign group Sea Shepherd. She said the real number of deaths is likely between 6,500 and 10,000 dolphins a year.
Daubin and Essemlali concur that the number of dolphins dying in nets has increased over the past three years; however, the trend we can calculate is likely just a fraction of the reality, since so many bodies sink. If practices continue, “they could drive the European dolphin population to extinction,” warns Essemlali.
Under pressure of French PresidentEmmanuel Macron, French Ecology Minister Francois de Rugy developed preliminary plans to address the issue.
One plan includes increased funding of research into acoustic repellent devices that are already in place on 26 trawlers off the Bay of Biscay, where an industrial fishing hub is located. When activated, the devices send unpleasant acoustic signals that dolphins can sense, which cause them to swim away from the area.
Sea Shephard believes the repellents are “useless” and claims that trawlers only activate the devices if they know they are being checked by fishing monitors, out of fear that the signals will “scare off valuable fish as well,” according to The Independent.
The group also noted that the devices are not a long-term solution, as widespread use would pollute the ocean with an obscene amount of noise and disorient mammals and fish.
Sea Shephard blamed the crisis on unprecedented demand for low-cost fish. Seafood consumption has “more than doubled in the past 50 years, putting stress on the sustainability of fishing,” according to the European Commission. Global seafood consumption exceeded 20 kilograms per capita per year in 2014, and the European Commission’s science and knowledge service study on the global seafood consumption footprint.
The commission notes “the sustainability of fish stock” as a concern, mostly due to “globalization and the geographical discrepancy between aquaculture production happening mostly in Asia, and seafood demand mostly in Europe, North America and Asia.”
“Right now … you can find sea bass cheap in the shops at €7 a kilo [$4 per pound], but it’s the dolphins who are paying the price,”said Essemlali.