This Week in Whales: Great News for Some Dolphins; Bad News for Some Whales; Whale of a Find in Chile...
News in the world of whales this week (or close to this week).
- Great news for the Gangetic river dolphin living in the Vikramshila Gangetic Dolphin Sanctuary in Bihar, India. The endangered species’ population in the sanctuary has grown from 175 to 223. While the Gangetic river dolphin is India’s national aquatic animal, it’s also a target of poachers who kill the dolphins for their flesh and oil. For the whole country, there are only about 2,000 Gangetic river dolphins left, down from tens of thousands a few decades ago. The river dolphin is one of four freshwater dolphin species in the world. The other three are found in China’s Yangtze river, Pakistan’s Indus river, and South America’s Amazon river.
- And great news for Vidalia, the baby dolphin in Florida that was trapped in fish lines for several months. Vidalia was set free of the fishing line after a massive rescue involving 38 people. The line was running through the calf’s mouth, cutting into its jaw, and wrapped around its right flipper and cut several inches into its dorsal fin. Later in the day, Vidalia was seen jumping and leaping – probably with joy.
- The baby dolphin freed in Florida was a victim of bycatch – the unintentional catch of other species while fishing (such as dolphins, sharks, sea turtles, and even birds). While Vidalia was saved, most marine mammals are not so lucky. Hundreds of thousands die every year because of unscrupulous fishing methods. Greenpeace has just released graphic video footage from a helicopter pilot involved in the tuna fishing industry that documents the suffering of whales, dolphins, rays, and turtles caught in fishing nets meant for tuna. The footage, which is not for the squeamish, shows the cost of tuna fishing when such operations use “fish aggregating devices” which not only lure tuna, but also numerous other species, to their death.
- Two unrelated mass strandings in Australia and New Zealand have resulted in the death of 91 whales. In Australia, 24 sperm whales and two minke whales died in a stranding on and around Ocean Beach in Tasmania. In New Zealand, 65 pilot whales died on the tip of Farewell Spit on the South Island. While rescuers were able to free two of the large sperm whales in Australia using high-powered water jets and nets to guide them back to see, their efforts to save three other whales that were found alive proved unsuccessful. In New Zealand, despite repeated attempts to save the pilot whales, all of the stranded whales either died or were euthanized. These strandings have taken place during the peak stranding time in the South Pacific between October and February. Sick whales often head to shallow waters where it takes less energy to get to the surface and breath. If they become beached, they will often call to their pods for help, which results in mass strandings. Sounds like what humans do when they jump into rushing rivers to help people who have fallen in.
- As the above stories show, marine mammal rescue operations deserve our support. The Marine Education, Research and Rehabilitation Institute of Delaware has been making cuts in the face of funding declines over the past years. So, if you’re anywhere near the Lewes Yacht Club this Saturday night, consider dropping by for MERR’s annual “Fin-raiser,”[ ] a live and silent auction, to help them keep up the good work.
- Paleontologists make a whale of find in Chile’s Atacama desert. The discovery of around 80 whale fossils, dating back seven million years, “is a discovery of global importance. There has never been a find of this size or diversity anywhere in the world,” said Sol Squire, a paleontologist working on the project. The whales are the ancient relatives of today’s whales and date from the Miocene and Pliocene epochs. The discovery includes new species and a family group that appears to be a mother, father, and baby whale.
- Which is worse, dying from being drugged or having your immune system degraded by two days of constant harassment? Either sounds like torture to me and either could be the reason that two dolphins died at Switzerland’s Connyland aquarium. One theory is that 16 hours of techno music from a two-day rave hosted at the aquarium degraded the dolphins’ immune systems, leading to their deaths. “The sound levels which would have been heard by the dolphins is comparable with that of a pneumatic drill on top volume,” said Andreas Morlok, an animal rights activist. According to Morlok, “before the event we warned of these noise levels and the damage which could be done and called for the event to be called off.” Nonetheless, the event went on and the dolphins were forced to perform at the park during the rave. The other theory is that the dolphins died after being fed drugs by ravers at the event. The second dolphin that died, Chelmers, suffered a “drawn out and painful” death, according to Connyland keeper, Nadja Gasser. According to Gasser, “He was drifting under the water and was clearly in trouble and so we jumped into the water. We tried to hold him. He was shaking all over and was foaming at the mouth. After an hour the dolphin died.” This is awful on many levels, but I continually come back to “Dolphins in Switzerland? Really? Who thought that was a good idea?”
Meanwhile, this week in Wales…
If you find yourself in Caerphilly this weekend, head over to the Green Fayre held by Caerphilly Friends of the Earth in the Twyn Community Centre Caerphilly. The aim of the fayre is to show people in Caerphilly that there are alternatives to buying goods with have travelled thousands of miles from large, remote multinational companies. Excellent.