Tag Archives: whales

Dolphins killed by fishing

Dolphins

Did you know that at least one third of the fish that are caught in commercial fishing nets are thrown back into the sea, dead or dying?  Known as bycatch, this may be because they are a fish species that is not valuable to the fishing industry, but it can also be because they are mammals that just happened to get caught in the nets.  Bycatch when fishing for tuna in particular is one of the leading causes of death for dolphins and other cetaceans, and their numbers are in steep decline as a result.

“Between 1950 and 2018, the fishing industry unintentionally caught around 4.1 million dolphins”, says Dr. Putu Liza Mustika, who worked on the study. A research team—led by Dr. Charles Anderson of the Maldivian Manta Marine organization—looked at bycatch rates in the Indian ocean to draw its conclusions.

They estimate that the dolphin population in the Indian Ocean stands at 13 percent of what it was in the 1980s. Mustika notes that the figures in the study are “ball-park figures,” and therefore have a lot of uncertainties. But what they do confirm is the magnitude of the problem.

The study includes a number of dolphins and whale species, including Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins, humpback, Risso’s, and common dolphins. The study states that although tuna catches are increasing, dolphin bycatch stagnated in the 1990s. [It] has since declined, and is therefore unsustainable and impacting populations, according to Dr. Sarah Dolman from Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC).

Humpback whale caught in line

It’s not just dolphins that end up as bycatch. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) says, “entanglement in fishing gear is the leading threat for whales and dolphins around the globe. [It’s] estimated to cause at least 300,000 deaths per year.”

According to Dolman, fishers caught 75 percent of toothed cetaceans in gillnets in the past 20-plus years. Sixty-four percent of baleen whales have ended up as bycatch in the same time period, as well as 66 percent of pinnipeds (that’s animals like seals, sea lions, and walruses).

Dolman notes that authorities have taken some action to mitigate the situation, including fishing bans and gear modifications. “There is much that can be done to better monitor, mitigate report, and enforce dolphin bycatch.” She adds that the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is currently producing best practice guidelines to prevent and reduce marine mammal bycatch. She notes: “this would be a good place to start.”

However, all the fishing regulations in the world will not prevent these beautiful creatures from dying as long as there is a high demand for fish, especially tuna.  One thing you can do is to give up eating fish, or switch to vegan substitutes for fish products.  We wrote last month about some of the new vegan seafood brands that are available.  It’s also easy to make your own “tuna salad” from chickpeas.  See recipes

Whaling resumes :(

Whale captured

It’s bad news for whales. Japan has resumed commercial whaling, bringing back to port the country’s first official catch since it withdrew from the International Whaling Commission, a global organization committed to the conservation of whales. But Japan isn’t the only country still hunting whales, in spite of a 1986 ban on the practice. Norway and Iceland hunt whales too.

Whales roam throughout all of the world’s oceans, communicating with complex and mysterious sounds. Their sheer size amazes us: the blue whale can reach lengths of more than 100 feet and weigh up to 200 tons—as much as 33 elephants.

Despite living in the water, whales breathe air. A thick layer of fat called blubber insulates them from cold ocean waters. And like humans, they are warm-blooded mammals who nurse their young.  We know that they feel pain just like us too.

Whales are at the top of the food chain and have an important role in the overall health of the marine environment. Unfortunately their large size and mythical aura does not protect them; six out of the 13 great whale species are classified as endangered, even after decades of protection.

There are a number of factors contributing to the current endangered status of whales such as overfishing, pollution, dam/bridge construction, private/commercial boating and commercial whaling, but out of these contributing factors commercial whaling has had the largest effect on the endangered status of today’s existing whale populations.

Fortunately, whale meat is becoming less appetizing. Conservation groups have revealed that Norwegian exports of minke whale to Japan contained damaging levels of toxic pesticides, making that meat unfit for human consumption. It’s a discovery that could cue a swifter decline in the appetite for whale meat.

Japan used to import whale meat from Norway but had to stop. Tests showed samples contained pesticides at twice the limit Japan imposes on its imports. The meat harbored chemicals such as aldrin, dieldrin, and chlordane, thought to play a role in causing birth defects, neurological harm, and some cancers, if humans consume them in high quantities.

We hope that this is a wake-up call for those cultures that still consume whale meat.  Of course we wish that the whales weren’t so polluted, since it isn’t good for their health either, but we also wish that they were free to roam the oceans without fear of capture.  Hopefully that day will come in the not-too-distant future.