Hunted dolphins in the Faroe islands
Spotted dolphin and eastern spinner dolphin populations are only a fraction of their historical numbers. Of the six porpoise species the two that live in open oceans — and thus have the least exposure to gill nets — are faring much better than their shallow-water relatives. Populations of Dall’s porpoise (Phocoenoides dalli) in the North Pacific and the spectacled porpoise (Phocoena dioptrica) in the Southern Ocean are in relatively good shape. On the Yangtze River in China, an endemic population of finless porpoise (Neophocoena phocoenoides), the world’s only freshwater porpoise population, is in steep decline. The causes? Unmanaged fishing and rampant development on the river. The marine populations of finless porpoise are somewhat better off, depending on how much fishing is done in their home waters. The message is clear: if there’s a net in the water, a porpoise will find it.
As an explanation of why heavily fished tuna survive better than dolphins a single tuna with a ten year life span may produce two million eggs each spawning season, while female dolphin may have a dozen offspring in her 35 year life. [Source: Kenneth Norris, National Geographic, September 1992]
Dead dolphins often wash up on beaches on the coast of France in winter. In March 2013, AFP reported: At least 910 dolphins have washed up on France's Atlantic coast since the start of the winter, an oceanographic institute reported. Over the past week alone, more than 400 of the marine mammals were found stranded along the coast, an "unprecedented" number, the Pelagis oceanographic observatory based in the western city of La Rochelle said in a report. Early examinations of the dolphins showed that some of them had been dead for days, and others for several weeks. Most of them showed injuries consistent with being caught in fishing nets, other fishing equipment or boat engines. [Source: AFP, March 18, 2023]
Between 2017 and 2020, the average number of washed-up dolphins during the winter was 850 Most of them died in February and March, when dolphins usually move closer to the coast looking for food and are more likely to come in contact with fishing operations. Some NGOs and scientists have called for a temporary halt of fishing in those months, but the government has instead opted for solutions mitigating the impact of industrial fishing on dolphins, such as onboard cameras or repellents to keep them away.
Websites and Resources: Britain-based Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society uk.whales.org ; Animal Diversity Web (ADW) animaldiversity.org; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) noaa.gov; Fishbase fishbase.se; Encyclopedia of Life eol.org; Smithsonian Oceans Portal ocean.si.edu/ocean-life-ecosystems ; Monterey Bay Aquarium montereybayaquarium.org ; MarineBio marinebio.org/oceans/creatures
Dolphins and Fishing
In the late 1980s it was estimated that over a million dolphins a year were being killed by fisherman trying to catch tuna, squid and other food fish. Most of the dolphins died by getting entangled in drift nets up to 40 miles long or encircled by purse seine nets, used to capture schools of tuna.
Dolphin fishing Tuna fishermen have traditionally looked for schools of dolphins because yellowfin tuna tend to congregate underneath them. Scientists speculate the tuna do this because the dolphins protect them from predators and help them locate food. The confusion of being trapped in a seine net often forces the school of dolphins to sink to the bottom of the net in a helpless pile. Dolphins could easily prevent themselves from being trapped by purse string nets that they could easily jump over but they don’t. Fortunately drift nets are no longer used and techniques have devised to drive the dolphins from the seine nets without affecting the tuna catch. [Source: Kenneth Norris, National Geographic, September 1992]
Changes introduced in U.S. fisheries in the 1990s reduced the numbers of dolphins accidently caught by a third. The United States introduced the dolphin-safe label which placed on cans of tuna in which tuna were caught using methods that minimized the harm to dolphins. Starkist, Chicken of the Sea and Bumble Bee all went along. In 2002, the Bush administration changed the definition of dolphin-safe to allow the encircling of dolphins to catch tuna in the name of free trade and globalization and a concession to the Mexican fishermen who want access to the American market.
In the mid 2000s it was estimated that 300,00 dolphins, porpoises and whales were still being killed by fishing nets each year, with dolphins in the Philippines, India and Thailand being under the greatest threat. Many of those killed in the open sea are killed by gill nets. Deaths can be reduced by using simple, low cost safety measures such as making slight modifications to fishing gear.
Dolphins were been hunted and eaten by people on Pedro González Island, Panama 6,000 years ago. Archaeology magazine reported: In a midden, archaeologists found a relatively high percentage of dolphin bones — common and bottlenose — more than probably would have been available from scavenging beached animals. It is difficult to hunt dolphins from a dugout canoe, so the hunters may have waited until a pod entered a shallow bay, and then used boats to drive their quarry onto the beach. [Source: Samir S. Patel [Source: Archaeology magazine, May-June 2016]
Hunted dolphins in the Faroe islands Each year hundreds of dolphin are hunted and killed for food in the Faroe Islands, a Danish territory between Denmark, Iceland and Norway. In September 2021, Reuters reported: “More than 1,400 dolphins were killed off the coast of the Faroe Islands in a single day, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society said, as part of the Danish territory's century-old traditional Grindadrap hunt. “The U.S.-based NGO said the slaughter of 1428 Atlantic white-sided dolphins is considered to be the largest single hunt of cetaceans ever recorded worldwide.
“The annual dolphin drive, when several hundred pilot whales are slaughtered for their meat and blubber, is part of a 1,000-year-old tradition in the North Atlantic archipelago. This year the number of mammals slaughtered prompted an outcry from animal rights groups for the excessive killing, producing "more dolphin meat from this hunt than anyone wants to take," Sea Shepherds said in a press release. [Source: Reuters Videos, September 15, 2021]
The hunting of large whales is managed by the International Whaling Commission. But there is no international or inter-governmental organisation to set quotas or provide management advice for hunting small cetaceans which includes dolphins and porpoises. Unregulated and often undocumented hunting pose a real threat to the survival of local populations of some dolphin species.
Dolphin Hunting in Japan
Hunting of whales and dolphins in Japan dates back 5,000 to 8,000 years, with dolphin bones, including a stone tool made with a bone, unearthed in the era. Denmark and island nations in the South Pacific also engage in dolphin hunting, but Japan's annual catch is the largest.
In order to catch dolphins in Japan, a prefectural governor's permission is required. At present, hunting permits have been issued in eight prefectures — Hokkaido, Aomori, Iwate, Miyagi, Chiba, Shizuoka, Wakayama and Okinawa. According to the Fisheries Agency, dolphins are classified as cetaceans but are not among the species managed by the International Whaling Commission.
The Japanese government permits about 20,000 dolphins to be hunted along Japan's coasts each year. In 2008, 1,857 dolphins were caught in Wakayama Prefecture, which includes Taiji, where dolphins are herded to shore into a hidden cove and killed. This a relatively small percentage of the total dolphins killed each year with permission of the Japanese government. Taiji has been singled out for scrutiny and criticism mainly because it uses drive fishing, in which the animals are herded near to shore and slaughtered in shallow water, as opposed to being harpooned at sea.
Solomon Island Dolphin Hunters
Japan and the Faroe Islands are not the places where dolphin hunting is done. Al-Jazeera reported: In a remote Pacific paradise in the Solomon Islands, a village continues a centuries-old tradition that has sparked outrage around the world. They hunt and kill dolphins, often hundreds at a time, a controversial practice they revived in 2013.. [Source: Al-Jazeera, March 7, 2014]
“The village tribesmen say they hunt the marine mammals for their meat and teeth to pay for wedding dowries, easing the impact of rising sea levels on crops and livelihoods. For two years, the Earth Island Institute, an environmental charity, persuaded villagers to stop hunting dolphins by promising direct cash payments and alternative work programmes worth up to $400,000 to Fanalei and two other villages, a huge windfall in the Solomons.
“But the deal ended when the Institute alleged that the majority of the funds provided went missing - triggering a massive fallout out between the conservation group and the hunters. Two of the three villages involved in the deal say that the Earth Island Institute owes them money. The Earth Island Institute says that they did pay, but representatives of the village who live in the capital Honaira did not pass the money onto the villagers.
“The feud culminated in the slaughter of 1,600 dolphins in 2013, with the Earth Island Institute describing the hunt as an act of extortion. Local conservationists say dolphin hunting may have once been part of the villagers' traditional culture, but that the animal is now viewed as a money earner in a country considered one of the poorest in the Pacific region.
“In the past, dolphins have also been captured and sold to aquariums and marine parks overseas. A healthy dolphin can fetch as much as $100,000. Despite a current ban on the live export of dolphins, some traders say it is a less barbaric and more lucrative trade than killing them in the hunt. But some of the hunters disagree, saying it is better for these ocean-roaming, intelligent mammals to be hunted in the wild than be forced to spend a lifetime in captivity without their pods.
“With other tribes considering the possibility of hunting again this year, the government says it may introduce a quota system restricting the number of dolphins hunted and killed. Even some Fanalei villagers concede that slaughtering them en masse means too many dolphins die, and sometimes the meat simply rots.
15,000 Dolphins Slaughtered in Solomon Islands, Mainly for Their Teeth
Over 15,000 dolphins were slaughtered off the Solomon Islands between 1976 and 2015. The drive hunting of dolphins is particularly big on the island of Malaita, with the most activity taking place at the village, Fanalei, responsible for thousands slaughtered. The International Business Times reported: “In 2010, the village suspended hunting in exchange for financial compensation from an international non-governmental organisation. However, it resumed in 2013 when a a single dolphin tooth was worth about 70 US cents. a fivefold increase from 2003. [Source: Hannah Osborne, International Business Times, May 7, 2015]
Marc Oremus and other scientists at the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University did a study on the practice published in the Royal Society Open Science. They said: said: "After the agreement broke down in 2013, a local newspaper reported that villagers had killed hundreds of dolphins in just a few months. So we went to take a look...The main objective of the hunt is to obtain dolphin teeth that are used in wedding ceremonies. The teeth and meat are also sold for cash."
“He said the people are aware of the risks of exploiting the dolphin population and that there is little authorities can do and they lack money and resources needed for research to estimate the local dolphin population. Researchers found that during the first three months of 2013, over 1,500 spotted dolphins were killed. A further 159 spinner dolphins and 15 bottlenose dolphins were also slaughtered. Their findings represent one of the largest documented dolphin hunts in the world — rivalling those seen in Japan.
“To kill them, hunters in 20 to 30 canoes use rounded stones to create a clapping sound underwater. They then move into a U-shape around the dolphins, using the sound as an acoustic barrier to drive them towards shore, where they are slaughtered. Scott Baker, study co-author, said: "In the Solomon Islands, the hunting is as much about culture as economic value. In other parts of the world, however, the targeting of dolphins and other small cetaceans appears to be increasing as coastal fishing stocks decline.
“Baker also said the increase in value of their teeth was "troubling" as it creates another commercial incentive for the hunting. The study said it was not clear why the price of dolphin teeth has increased, but that it was possible the two year hunting hiatus could have increased demand. "The increase in the price of teeth could have been a factor in the decision by the village of Ata'a to resume hunting in December 2012," the authors added. "It was our impression that the people of Fanalei were puzzled by the attention they attracted in resuming the recent dolphin hunt. To them, it seemed that the agreement with EII represented only a rather brief lapse in a long history of hunting. They explained that stopping the hunt had brought much tension in the village and that resuming it brought back peace among community members. Therefore, they made it clear that they intended to continue the hunt."
Dolphins Killed of the Thousands for Shark Bait in Peru
In the early 2010s, more than 10,000 dolphins were killed every year in Peruvian waters. Many of them ended up a shark bait despite the practice being outlawed by the country since 1996. Fisherman have said they did because the cost of fish bait in Peru had gotten to be so high. The London-based Ecologist Film Unit recently recorded one of the hunts in an undercover investigation and released its material. [Source: Cindy Y. Rodriguez and Rafael Romo, CNN, October 23, 2013]
CNN reported: A fishing vessel goes through rough water riding closer and closer to dusky dolphins swimming under the ship’s bow. The crew aims to plunge a harpoon into the pod, assuring it travels all the way through the body of one of the mammals. Bleeding profusely, the dolphin is hauled on board and almost immediately dies on the deck of the vessel. With his sharpened knife, a Peruvian fisherman then peels the skin off the dolphin’s back and carefully cuts the severed body into thin slices.
Stefan Austermuhle, executive director of the animal conservation group Mundo Azul, said despite the law prohibiting the human consumption and sales of dolphin meat, Mudo Azul asserts there’s been weak law enforcement and lack of awareness. In recent years, there’s been an upsurge in the targeting of sharks. The shark meat is predominantly consumed within Peru, but the fins we’re told are being exported to the Far East for use as shark fin soup,” said Jim Wickens, an investigative journalist with the Ecologist Film Unit. He witnessed the scene along with cameraman Alexander Reynoso who recorded the harpooning of the dolphins.
He said the vessel he was on was one of hundreds that was out to sea off Peru for most of the year targeting sharks. The fishing boat captain said all of the boats carry harpoons and aim to target one to three dolphins per trip.“We were living in very difficult conditions through really quite rough weather and having to eat and sleep for some days actually next to the dismembered carcass of a dolphin. It was horrendous,” recounted Wickens. The fishermen knew the foreigners were journalists and allowed them on board for a week in exchange for fuel money and the protection of their anonymity, although they didn’t realize the full scope of their investigation. According to Mundo Azul, violations of these regulations can be punishable with the suspension of concessions, authorizations, permits or licenses for 180 days and one to three years in jail.
The cost of fish bait in Peru has also gone up yearly, according to the fisherman. It seems to be part of the story around the world, Wickens said. Fewer fish in the sea means it costs more money to buy them. This isn’t just an issue off Peru’s coast. Since the video has been released, Wickens has been contacted by experts in Southeast Asia who’ve told him this practice might also be taking place close to Indonesian waters as well. He said it’s hard to know how many dolphins are being killed worldwide because it happens out of sight.
Dolphins and Pollution
Dolphins are vulnerable to toxic pollutants. They store food energy in their blubber, where toxins also tend to accumulate. Dolphins are fine except when they have to draw food from their blubber, causing the the toxins to circulate through their system in extremely high doses. [Source: Kenneth Norris, National Geographic, September 1992]
Dolphins were severely impacted by the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 according to a study published in December 2013 in the journal Environmental Science and Technology. . AFP reported: Bottlenose dolphins with missing teeth, lung disease, and abnormal hormone levels were found swimming in the Gulf of Mexico a year after the BP oil spill, US researchers say. Pneumonia, liver disease and a pregnant female carrying a dead fetus were also reported in the first major study of dolphin health after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion that spilled 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Half of the 32 dolphins studied off the coast of Louisiana in August 2011 — a year and four months after the worst oil spill in US history began — were judged to be seriously ill or in danger of dying. "I've never seen such a high prevalence of very sick animals," said lead author Lori Schwacke, a researcher with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). [Source: Kerry Sheridan, AFP, February 1, 2014]
The wild dolphins were captured in the central Louisiana waters and held briefly for health checks before being released. "There is disease in any wild population. We just haven't seen animals that were in such bad shape as what we saw in Barataria Bay," she said. Their health was compared to 27 bottlenose dolphins in Sarasota Bay, Florida, an area also in the Gulf that was unaffected by the oil spill. The Barataria Bay dolphins had significantly lower levels of adrenal hormones, which are critical to an animal's stress response. Moderate to severe lung disease was five times more common in the Louisiana dolphins than in their Floridian counterparts. Three of the Barataria Bay dolphins had also lost nearly all their teeth, and three others had just half of their normal number of teeth left. Dolphins typically have between 78 and 106 teeth. "There were several dolphins that were in such bad shape that the veterinarians that examined them did not expect them to live very long," said Schwacke, an expert on dolphins in the southern United States. Dolphins that were studied also suffered from pneumonia, anemia, low blood sugar, and elevated liver enzymes.
Asked for comment, BP spokesman Jason Ryan directed AFP to a company statement that read in part: "Symptoms observed in the study have been seen in other dolphin mortality events that have been related to contaminants and conditions found in the northern Gulf, such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), DDT and pesticides." NOAA researchers admitted that their study cannot prove that the dolphin's health problems were caused by the BP oil spill because there were no studies of dolphin health in that area prior to the spill.
Mass Dolphin Die-Offs
In July and August 2013, more than 160 Atlantic bottlenose dolphins washed up dead on beaches from New York to Virginia, Charley Potter, a marine mammal collection manager at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History. told NPR's Weekend Edition. Potter said that the die-off involved "all age classes, both males and females" and that it "seems to have two centers of concentration — one in New Jersey and the other in Virginia." While no definitive cause for the dolphin deaths has been determined, Potter says one possibility is the morbillivirus, a member of the same family of virus that causes measles and canine distemper. Morbillivirus was pinpointed as a cause in a 1987 dolphin die-off that killed some 2,500 animals. Potter says it "has been found in some of the animals to date." [Source: Scott Neuman, NPR, August 17, 2013]
In January 2014, 400 dolphin carcases were found washed up dead on beach in the Lambayeque region of northern Peru where more than 800 washed up in whole of 2012. Associated Press reported: Authorities never established the cause of the deaths in 2012. Autopsies were performed on the dolphins found in the Lambayeque region in 2014. Technician Jaime de la Cruz of Peru's Imarpe marine life agency said about 220 dead dolphins were found in the last week of January alone, the rest during the previous three weeks. [Source: Associated Press, February 4, 2014]
Autopsies of some of the more than 870 dolphins found in 2012 were inconclusive. Speculation ranged from biotoxins in the sea to seismic testing or an unknown ailment. Yuri Hooker, director of the marine biology unit at Cayetano Heredia University, told Associated Press that in other parts of the world dolphin deaths generally were caused by environmental contamination when they ate fish or other smaller species filled with toxins. Hooker said others died after ingesting discarded plastic floating in the sea. The marine biologist said determining the death of dolphins was complicated in Peru because government laboratories had only three or four of the world's 100 or so chemicals that could be used for determining an animal's cause of death.
Dead Risso's dolphin on Norwick Beach Dolphins have washed up on beaches just like whales.There have been problems with dolphins beaching themselves like whales. In March 2005, a pod of rough-toothed dolphins beached themselves in the Florida Keys near where the U.S. Navy was using sonar in military exercises, At least 23 of 70 dolphins died, after they became stranded at Marathon key. Some speculate that the normally deepwater dolphins could have become disoriented from decompression after sonar made them surface too quickly.
In 2006, hundreds of dolphins left their deep offshore habitat and got stranded in shallow waters and later washed up dead on Zanzibar's northern coast. "It is a mystery," Narriman Jiddawi, a marine biologist at the Institute of Marine Science of the University of Dar es Salaam, said after studying tissue samples and the remains of some of the 400 common bottleneck dolphins. Dolphin carcasses washed up Friday along a 2.5-mile stretch between Kendwa and Nungwi beaches. The dolphins had no bruises to indicate they had been entangled in fishing nets, Jiddawi said. [Source: Ali Sultan, Associated Press, ENN May 4, 2006]
Associated Press reported: A U.S. Navy task force patrols the coast of East Africa in counterterrorism operations. A Navy spokesman ruled out the possibility Navy sonar might have disoriented the dolphins and led to their deaths. He said there were no U.S. Navy vessels within 580 miles of the location in the 48 hours before it happened. "In the U.S. alone, a person is 10 times more likely to be struck by lightning than for sonar to cause a marine mammal stranding," Lt. William Marks said.
Scientists said they were mystified by the mass deaths. "A day earlier, fishermen reported seeing them at sea at high tide, but the next morning they appeared dead," Jiddawi said. "We don't know why they left offshore waters in such a large number and got stranded." Preliminary examination of their stomachs indicated the dolphins had either not eaten for a long time or had vomited severely. Their general condition, however, showed that they had not starved, she said. Experts planned to further examine the dolphins' stomachs for traces of poison, including from the toxic "red tides" of algae.
Researchers Find Beached Dolphins are Often Deaf
David A. Fahrenthold wrote in the Washington Post,”New research into the cause of dolphin "strandings" - incidents in which weakened or dead dolphins are found near shore - has shown that in some species, many stranded creatures share the same problem. They are nearly deaf, in a world where hearing can be as valuable as sight. That understanding - gained from a study of dolphins' brain activity - could help explain why such intelligent animals do something so seemingly dumb. Unable to use sound to find food or family members, dolphins can wind up weak and disoriented. [Source: David A. Fahrenthold, Washington Post, November 15, 2010]
Washed up dolphin at Eskmeal Researchers are unsure what is causing the hearing loss: It might be old age, birth defects or a cacophony of man-made noise in the ocean, including Navy sonar, which has been associated with some marine mammal strandings in recent years. The study, published Nov. 3 in the journal PLoS One, examined several species of marine mammals - including dolphins and small whales - in the Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea. The animals had been found stranded in the wild and taken in for medical treatment and feeding.
Each year, 1,200 to 1,600 whales and dolphins are found stranded off the U.S. coast, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Most are dead: In 2007, the most recent year with data, 195 out of 1,263 animals were found alive. But many are euthanized on the scene or die later. Others survive but are too young or too debilitated to be returned to the wild. Of the 195 animals found alive that year, five were released.
Trying to study what put these animals in distress, the researchers faced a puzzle. How do test a dolphin's hearing? "They can't raise their flipper" if they hear a tone, Mann said. Instead, researchers looked for reactions to the sound inside the animals' brains. The researchers affixed sensors to the creatures' heads with suction cups, which could detect electrical activity in the brain. They then played a series of tones: If the animals could hear them, the sensors would detect millions of neurons firing to process the sound.
In some of the species they studied, the tests showed that stranded animals could still hear normally. Three Risso's dolphins, two pygmy killer whales and a spinner dolphin showed no problems. But the researchers found severe to near-total hearing loss in two species. Among bottlenose dolphins, four out of seven stranded animals had hearing problems. Among rough-toothed dolphins, the total was five out of 14. That, they said, could be a serious problem for animals that live in often-murky waters. "These animals are living in an environment where vision can't play the same role it does on land," said Randall Wells, a senior conservation scientist at the Chicago Zoological Society who was another of the study's authors. "Sound is probably the most important sense that they have."
What Caused the Dolphins to Go Deaf
David A. Fahrenthold wrote in the Washington Post, “Without the ability to hear these sounds, scientists said dolphins can be helpless. In some cases, the animals had lost more than 99 percent of their echo-locating capacity: If a normal animal could detect prey at 100 yards, these dolphins could do it only at a yard or less. [Source: David A. Fahrenthold, Washington Post, November 15, 2010]
The research did not indicate what might have caused the animals to lose their hearing. Mann said he thinks the problem is most likely a combination of old age, birth defects and disease. But other researchers have also identified a contentious and growing issue: too much noise in the ocean. Dolphins evolved when the only source of loud sounds underwater would have been thunderstorms or unusual events such as volcanic eruptions.
Now, however, there are the sounds of powerboats and huge oceangoing ships. Oil and gas exploration efforts use loud noises to conduct seismic tests of the seabed. Navy exercises fill the water with the sounds of explosions and sonar. In Sarasota Bay, Fla., home to about 160 dolphins, researchers have calculated that a powerboat passes within 100 yards of every dolphin every six minutes.
"These animals that are very finely tuned acoustic machines are now having . . . to deal with noises, with sounds that their ancestors never knew," Wells said. He said it's possible, but not certain, that chronic noise played a role in damaging some dolphins' hearing.
Sonar may cause causes a decompression sickness in dolphins like it does with whales. See Whales.
In February 2023, the commissioner of the State Council, France's highest jurisdiction in government matters, came out in favour of a temporary ban in some locations on certain types of fishing deemed to be responsible for many of the dolphin deaths. A formal decision by the Council is expected soon, after several environmental protection associations brought a legal complaint against the government.
Fuji, a dolphin at a marine park in Okinawa, lost must of his tail to a strange disease. Enough of the tail for a rubber prosthesis designed by sculptor Kazukiko Yakushiji to be affixed with plastic reinforcements and metal screws. With her new tail she was able to do tricks at the marine park like other dolphins.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, NOAA
Text Sources: Animal Diversity Web (ADW) animaldiversity.org; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) noaa.gov; Wikipedia, National Geographic, Live Science, BBC, Smithsonian, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, The New Yorker, Reuters, Associated Press, Lonely Planet Guides and various books and other publications.
Last Updated June 2023