The Beacon

Blog Tags: Dolphins

EU Court Rules Against Italy for Use of Driftnets


A fisherman opens up a driftnet. © Oceana/Enrique Pardo

In a big victory for our colleagues in Europe, yesterday the EU Court of Justice found Italy in violation of EU law for the country's continued use of driftnets, a fishing gear banned since 2002.

Driftnets, which float freely, sometimes for miles, are a serious threat to cetaceans, sea turtles, sharks and fish in the Mediterranean. Hundreds of thousands of whales and dolphins are killed each year by driftnets.

The day before the decision, Oceana presented its latest report on the use of driftnets in the Mediterranean and stressed that the Court's judgment was an essential step in eradicating the use of the fishing gear.

The Oceana report contains photographs from 2008 of 92 vessels with driftnets on board, 80 percent had already been identified during campaigns in previous years.

Xavier Pastor, Executive Director of Oceana Europe, said, “The judgment is an important milestone in the elimination of driftnets from the Mediterranean. At last we may be moving towards the end of this illegal fishing gear, seven years after the EU banned their use."

Over several years of campaigning in the Mediterranean, Oceana has documented and reported how driftnets, despite the ban, continue to be used, not only in Italy, but also in other areas of the Mediterranean such as Morocco, Turkey, and until recently, France.

Congratulations, Xavier and team!

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The Scanner

loggerhead hatchlings

Happy Friday, all! This week in ocean news, ...The New York Times described the threats facing sea turtles who nest on Miami's popular beaches. ...New research indicates that because killer whales in the Puget Sound must raise their voices to be heard over the din of boats, they may be exhausting themselves as they try to find food. ...Thanks to the loss of Arctic sea ice, two German ships are poised to become the first to go from Asia to Europe in the Arctic waters north of Russia.

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Dispatches from Ranger: Dolphins!


As promised, I'll be bringing you regular updates from the Ranger expedition to the Canary Islands. Here's one from last weekend. -Emily Almerimar-Chipiona Voyage. Saturday, August 15, 2009 By Silvia Garcia Sunny, calm during the morning, and strong gusts of wind in the Strait. Last night we left Almerimar bound for Chipiona which will take us about 30 hours of sailing. Going through the Strait has entailed sailing with the sails up because of the gusts of wind we have come across after coming from a completely calm Alboran Sea. Of course, in the Strait, we have sighted numerous cetaceans, normally family groups, of both long-finned pilot whales and common dolphins and striped dolphins; a mixed group of common and striped dolphins swam alongside the ship’s bow for quite awhile. On several occasions there were some babies and juveniles in these groups. We also came across a huge ocean sunfish (Mola mola) sunning, and a good-sized patch of sargasso (Sargassum vulgare) adrift, uprooted from the ocean bottom by a storm or aggressive fishing gear.

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Whale Wednesday: Whales on the Brain

A few weeks ago, I wrote about research that suggests whales and dolphins have cultures the same way humans do. A recent article in the Smithsonian Magazine points to similarities in the brains of social animals -- whales, great apes, and yes, humans -- that might explain the ability to work within social structures. Combining lab research with fieldwork and medical studies, scientists have discovered that the presence of von Economo neurons signifies ability to successfully communicate with others. Elephants and whales, like humans, operate in elaborate societies, quickly adapting to changing situations, such as rescuing an abandoned calf. The absence or destruction of these neurons, as in the case with certain neurological diseases, leads to a break down in social skills and adaptability.

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Whale Wednesday: Learn How To Echolocate!

Do me a favor and try this: stay where you are and click your tongue against the roof of your mouth. Now walk somewhere else, and click your tongue again. Can you hear a difference? Congratulations, you’re on your way to learning how to echolocate! Whales and dolphins use echolocation to navigate and locate objects in the dark ocean. According to acoustic experts in Spain, people can use tongue clicks to “see” things by listening to the way the noise reverberates off its surroundings. All you have to do is recognize changes in your tongue clicks based on what is around you. Apparently, two hours per day for a couple of weeks is enough to determine if something is in front of you, and it takes a couple more weeks to differentiate between a tree and pavement. The most ideal sound is the “palate click” where you place the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth just behind your teeth and quickly move your tongue backwards.

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Whale Wednesday: Cetacean Culture

When talking about whales and culture, I typically think of the role these marine mammals play in island societies, a la Whale Rider and the Maori of New Zealand. But recent research on whales and dolphins show that whales can be the same species, genetically similar, and even occupy the same habitat yet individual pods behave and interact with each other very differently. It is almost as if within species of whales there are different cultures. While it has been known for decades that whales have different vocalization patterns, the type of generational research performed in labs on smaller animals like primates and birds is just starting to happen for these larger marine animals and indications of “personhood” behaviors are beginning to emerge. Scientists have shown that certain primates are self aware, have feelings, and high-level cognitive powers and according to new research, whales and dolphins do too.

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Your Daily Dose of Cute

Some more cute marine mammals entered the world recently. Over at SeaWorld San Diego, staffers used sex selection techniques to keep an optimal balance between male and female Atlantic bottlenose dolphins and brought about the birth of a brand new female calf. Three California sea lions at the Belfast Zoo became mothers after nearly a year-long gestation period. As part of a European breeding program, the Belfast Zoo has seen the birth of 10 sea lions in the last four years. Ah, breeding programs are my favorite -- where science and cuteness meet.

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Can You Hear Me Now?

A recent study conducted at the University of Hawaii provides “sound” evidence that sonar induces temporary deafness in bottlenose dolphins. Many have long blamed man-made noise -- mainly sonar used by the navy -- for mass strandings of whale and dolphin species. Although this study does not provide concrete proof that submarine and warship sonar activity is causing strandings, it does prove definitively that sonar activity can affect cetaceans if they are close enough to the source and exposed over a prolonged period of time. Whales and dolphins use sound for navigation and temporary deafness can leave them disoriented. They are traveling over very large distances and cannot afford to lose their sense of direction. If they were to accidentally swim into a shallow area or be washed ashore, they could rapidly become dehydrated and die.

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Dolphins Deter Pirates

As if the Somali pirates story wasn't dramatic and compelling enough, feisty marine mammals have added a new twist. According to China Radio, thousands of dolphins blocked the suspected Somali pirate ships when they were trying to attack Chinese merchant ships passing the Gulf of Aden. When the defiant dolphins leapt out of water between the two parties, the alleged pirate ships stopped and then turned away. Or, as the Chinese media release states: "The pirates could only lament their littleness before the vast number of dolphins." All right, that's it. Someone has GOT to make this into a movie.

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Good News for Irrawaddy Dolphins

irrawaddy river dolphin

Another celebratory first from Hawaii: at the first international conference on protected areas for marine mammals, biologists working in Bangladesh reported that they found a thriving population of 6,000 Irrawaddy dolphins, a mother lode considering that marine mammal experts had feared the species was vulnerable to extinction. And although the dolphins are doing much better than predicted, scientists say they still need to be protected from the rising threat of fishing net entanglement (i.e.,bycatch) and global warming, which will likely raise sea levels and change the river flows, shrinking the species’ range. Other river dolphin and porpoise species have not fared so well. (Though it's important to note that Irrawaddy dolphins aren't true river dolphins but oceanic dolphins that live in brackish water.) In 2007, the baiji, a river dolphin in China's Yangtze River was pronounced extinct as a result of the enormous amount of human activity in the area. And who could forget the adorable and critically endangered vaquita marina, a porpoise in the Gulf of California, whose remaining 150-member population is also threatened by fishing nets.

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