Dead dolphins land on French coast in record numbers

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Dead dolphins fail on the Atlantic coast of France in such large numbers that local mammal populations are in danger, according to marine biologists.The overwhelming majority drowned in the nets of the trawlers. Autopsies often show broken bones, broken tails and fins, and deep incisions cut into their skin by the nets. Some were mutilated when the fishermen released their bodies.

“We are reaching death rates that threaten the survival of the Bay of Biscay dolphin population,” said Morgane Perri, a marine biologist in Brittany, in western France.

“In the past three years, we have seen more than 1,000 deaths (dolphins and porpoises) over a four-month period each winter. ”

Common dolphins are the hardest hit. Scientists believe that those found on beaches represent a small fraction of the total number of deaths in fishing nets off the French coast. The actual number should be five to ten times higher, they say.

Dolphins have been captured for decades in fishing nets in Atlantic waters off western Europe. But marine scientists say that the increase in numbers in recent years is the result of changes in fishing practices, and in particular of fishing boats that fish in pairs for bass.

French law requires fishermen to report all bycatch of cetaceans. But Perri said it rarely happens.

The National Committee of Marine Fish Harvesters did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The slow reproduction rates of dolphins, which are mammals and have to surface to breathe, mean that they are particularly vulnerable to large drops in numbers, according to the Pelagis Observatory in La Rochelle.

Population models show the numbers are stable, said Helene Peltier, researcher at the observatory. “But once you see the decline, it’s too late. ”

The activist group Sea Shepherd wants trawlers to be banned from spawning bass and better control of the fishery. Acoustic “pingers” designed to repel dolphins are also tested on certain fishing boats.

“There is no single quick fix,” said Peltier.

(Cover image via VCG)

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