News Stories

Dolphins & Whales in Danger

Which means WE'RE in danger too! - Dolphins may need legal rights in order to stay alive! At this point, it's almost a moral issue, which is even more urgent since new medical discoveries show how much we NEED these creatures. Also, it has now been discovered that killing whales is not only bad for the creatures being slaughtered, it's ALSO bad for the atmosphere!

Extensive commercial fishing endangers dolphin populations in the Mediterranean. The problem is trawling, which is the principal type of commercial fishing in Israel and involves dragging a large fishing net through the water, close to the sea floor, from the back of a boat. Commercial trawling in the Mediterranean off the coast of Israel targets codfish, red mullet and sole, three commercial and sought-after types of fish. Te sea floor fish population dropped dramatically between the years 1949 and 2006.

Does this decline in fish supply cause direct harm to the dolphins there, or does their diet include other types of fish, the kinds that people are not trawling for? Researchers examined the contents of the stomachs of 26 dolphins that died and landed on the beach, or that had been caught by mistake. They also examined the behavior of living dolphins by carrying out over 200 marine surveys along the central coast of Israel. The dolphins' stomachs contained mainly non-commercialized fish, suggesting that they perhaps do not compete directly with the commercial trawlers, and that the commercial fishing does not directly affect the dolphins' nutrition.

The living dolphins' behavior, on the other hand, draws an entirely different picture. According to researcher Aviad Scheinin, most of the dolphins were observed around the trawling boats: the chances of observing a school of dolphins near a trawler is ten times higher than in the open sea. This is because the trawler serves as a "feeding station" for the dolphins: there they are not able to feed from the more expensive loot caught in the nets, but they are able to enjoy schools of other types of fish that swim around the trawler. "The problem is that this type of fishing endangers the dolphins. Eight dolphins die each year off the coast of Israel on average, and of those, four die after having been mistakenly caught in trawling nets. Scheinin says, "Seeing as many studies have proven the high intelligence of the dolphin, it is clear that these sea mammals are aware of this danger, but are left with little choice due to their need to search for food around the trawlers due to the scarcity of other food sources."

This conclusion is reinforced by the suckling female dolphins. These dolphins require larger quantities of food than usual, and despite the risk for the younger and much less experienced dolphins that swim by their side, all of the suckling dolphins have been observed significantly more frequently around the trawlers. This indicates that they could not obtain enough food in other places.

But there are selfish reasons for humans to save these creatures: A new dolphin study has revealed genetic clues that could help medical researchers to treat type 2 diabetes. It turns out that bottlenose dolphins are resistant to insulin, just like people with diabetes, but dolphins can switch this resistance on and off. Can we find the human equivalent of this switch? In BBC News, Victoria Gill quotes researcher Lori Schwacke as saying, "There are several interesting diseases that you only see in humans and dolphins."

A new study has determined that a century of whaling may have released more than 100 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, not only from the ships themselves but also because whales store carbon in their bodies and when they are killed, most of this greenhouse gas is released into the atmosphere.

In BBC News, Victoria Gill quotes researcher Andrew Pershing as saying that whales are "forests of the ocean" because "whales, like any animal or plant on the planet, are made out of a lot of carbon. And when you kill and remove a whale from the ocean, that's removing carbon from this storage system and possibly sending it into the atmosphere."

Also, in the early days of whaling, the animals were a source of lamp oil, which was burned, releasing the carbon directly into the air. Pershing says that "this marine system is unique because when whales die [naturally], their bodies sink, so they take that carbon down to the bottom of the ocean. If they die where it's deep enough, it will be [stored] out of the atmosphere perhaps for hundreds of years," which could be long enough for us to develop alternative forms of energy.

According to Scheinin, "Unfortunately, we turn our backs to the sea and do not give much consideration to our marine neighbors." Lots of people obviously agree with this, since a movie about a dolphin hunt in Japan just won the Academy Award for best documentary.

Dolphin hunts are certainly shocking and here's something else that shocks us: How FEW of the readers and Dreamland listeners who claim to love us so much are willing to support us. It costs about $4 a month (less than a single latte) to give us the help we need so subscribe today. And please click on the "donate" tab on our homepage too!

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Art credit: Dreamstime.com

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