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 user 2005-03-20 at 10:37:00 am Views: 113
  • #10950
    Whale stranding cases ‘increase’
    Whale, dolphin and porpoise strandings have doubled in the UK
    over the last 10 years to 782, according to a new study.

    The Whale and Dolphin Stranding Scheme at the Natural History Museum blames
    an increase in fishing activity, which it says leads to more “by-catch”.

    This can occur when dolphins or whales chase fish into giant nets, where they
    then get entangled in the gear.

    The government, which part-funded the research, hopes to reduce by-catch by
    restricting certain types of trawling.

    The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is also
    testing new designs of “dolphin friendly” nets, which either have an escape
    hatch or acoustic devices to keep the mammals away.

    “I have always maintained that we must take firm action to reduce injury and
    death to dolphins from this fishery,” said minister Ben Bradshaw.

    Pair trawling

    Strandings of cetaceans (the group that includes whales, dolphins and
    porpoises) have increased from 360 in 1994 to 782 in 2004, the report finds.

    Since only a fraction of dead whales and dolphins will eventually arrive on
    beaches to be counted, the actual number of cetacean deaths is almost certainly
    much higher.

    “We believe that the numbers of animals we see stranded probably represents
    10% of what is being killed out there,” Richard Sabin, of the Natural History
    Museum, London, told the BBC News website.

    Marine strandings can occur for all sorts of reasons – many of
    them nothing to do with human activity.

    “Some live strandings are natural events,” said Mark Simmonds, of the Whale
    and Dolphin Conservation Society.

    “The animals may make navigational errors; then again, they are highly
    dependent on one another, so if one becomes sick or injured the others may stay
    with it, even at risk to themselves.”

    However, natural whale strandings are likely to stay constant – so something
    else is probably going on around UK waters.

    Richard Sabin believes the soaring numbers of cetacean deaths can be
    attributed to an increase in a certain method of sea bass fishing, known as
    pair-trawling, where great nets are suspended between two vessels.

    Pair-trawling generally occurs between the months of November and April and,
    sure enough, the greatest numbers of dolphin strandings occur at the same time.

    “If you look at the numbers of common dolphins stranded over the winter
    months, they increase as a direct correlation,” said Dr Sabin. “By-catch is
    completely indiscriminate. It takes the young and the old – everyone gets

    Written in death

    Sometimes, signs of their miserable death can be found on their bodies during

    “They are trapped underwater in the nets, and they react by closing their
    blow holes,” said Dr Simmonds. “They fight to get free, and this can last for
    many minutes; and you can read the signs of this struggle on their bodies – cuts
    on their snouts, broken teeth, damaged fins.”

    Last September, Defra announced new measures to help reduce death and injury
    to dolphins by pair-trawling techniques used in the South West of England.

    These measures include banning pair-trawling out to 20km (12
    miles), and introducing a licensing system for UK vessels within the 20-320km
    (12-200 miles) zone.

    However, Richard Sabin believes that other factors, such as military sonar,
    may be driving some of the animals ashore.

    “We have seen animals that show signs of decompression sickness, which can be
    linked to sonar,” he told the BBC News website.

    Mark Simmonds agreed that sonar could play a part. He said: “It is possible
    for live animals to be chased, as it were, onto land by man-made noise in the

    But it is far more difficult to directly blame strandings on sonar because
    military exercises tend to be conducted in secret.

    Richard Sabin is certain, however, that whatever the cause, too many
    cetaceans are dying.

    “Everyone who is involved in marine conservation agrees that no population
    can sustain the level of die-off that we’ve seen, with the common dolphin
    particularly, in the last five years.”

    He wants the public to help future monitoring of dolphin deaths. “The work
    that is being done by people around the UK is incredibly important,” he said.
    “What we need is another 10 years of exactly the same sort of effort.”

    If you find a dead stranded whale or dolphin contact:

  • England: 020 794 25 155 (The Natural History Museum)
  • Scotland: 01463 243 030 (Scottish Agricultural College)
  • Wales: 01348 875 000 (Marine Environmental Monitoring)

    If you find a live stranded whale or dolphin contact:

  • Scotland:The Cetacean Research & Rescue Unit on 01261 851696 or the
    SSPCA on 08707 377722
  • England and Wales: BDMLR on 01825 765546 or RSPCA on 0870 5555999