Tag Archives: dolphins

Whales and Dolphins Win Fight Against U.S. Navy Over Use of Underwater Explosives

In the battle between the U.S. Navy and marine mammals, the marine mammals won.

In September, a federal judge approved a legal settlement between environmental groups and the Navy that limits the use of sonar and other underwater explosives because they are inadvertently harmful to marine mammals. The blasts and high-pitched noises can deafen or even kill marine mammals, in particular whales and dolphins.

The settlement ends the use of sonar in the feeding grounds for whales off the coast of Southern California near Santa Catalina, San Clemente, and San Nicolas islands, in addition to those in Hawaiian waters, including around Maui, Molokai, and the Big Island.

Oceans director for one of the groups involved in the settlement, the Center for Biological Diversity, Miyoko Sakashita says:

“The settlement protects some of the most important areas for marine mammals that are sensitive to sonar. It’s a great benefit to the whales and lets the Navy fulfill its training needs.”

Photo by NOAA Photo Library / CC BY 2.0
Photo by NOAA Photo Library / CC BY 2.0

A report in 2013 by the Navy estimated that from 2014-2019, sonar testing, underwater explosives, missile launches, anti-submarine warfare and ship strikes could kill up to 155 whales, dolphins, seals, and sea lions and permanently injure over 2,000 animals.

But this is the first time that the Navy has recognized that it is possible to protect marine animal habitats without impeding upon or interfering with its training regimen. It sets a precedent for the future where Navy activities can occur as long as care and consideration is given to marine animals.

Featured image by Official U.S. Navy Page / CC BY 2.0

Mekong River Dolphin Death Reduces Local Population in Lao to 5

In April, a female Irrawaddy river dolphin was found dead close to the border of Laos, reducing the area’s population to five.

Locals discovered the dolphin on Cheutal Touch Island, Cambodia and immediately alerted river authorities. She weighed approximately 490 pounds (223 kilograms) and measured nearly 8 feet (2.4 meters) long. Although, the cause of death is unknown, marks on the female’s body indicated old age.

Down to just five left in Laos, the Irrawaddy species is critically endangered in the Mekong River. Manager of World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) Greater Mekong Species Program Thomas Gray stated:

“This is a very sad time for this dwindling population of dolphins. There are now just five dolphins left in Laos and it is another warning that the species is facing the grave risk of extinction from the country, and also throughout the Mekong River.”

Mekong River Dolphin2
Image credit: Donald Macauley / CC BY-SA 2.0

The Irrawaddy dolphins, which inhabit the Wang Paa Khaa river pool, have been fighting for survival over the past few decades, due to gillnet entanglement and illegal fishing methods like explosives and poison.

Gillnet entanglement, in particular, has been identified as the main cause of dolphin mortality. Cambodia has banned gillnet fishing on its side of the border, but Laos has only prohibited its use in the deepest parts of the pool.

In addition, Laos is planning to build the 260 megawatt Don Sahong Dam, which poses perhaps one of the largest threats to the dolphin population. The dam’s construction will entail the use of explosives to unearth tons of rock that will potentially kill or seriously harm nearby dolphins.

Mekong River Dolphin3
Image credit: Ken Marshall / CC BY 2.0

In the past, as many as 40 to 50 dolphins used this river pool, but numbers fell to 25 in the 1990s. Despite this drop, the dolphins are a major source of tourism and attract around 20,000 visitors per year.

WWF has and continues to urge Laos and Cambodia to work together on collective solutions to save this huge source of tourist revenue and one of the most iconic species in the world. WWF-Greater Mekong Conservation Director Teak Seng says:

“The small population size and high calf mortality means these rare and beautiful dolphins are facing a highly uncertain future, but there is still hope for them. Joint conservation action between both countries is paramount. The key is collaboration between Laos and Cambodia. It’s time to end the use of all types of illegal fishing gear and strictly regulate the use of gillnets and boat traffic. Working on these issues is the only long-term hope for the dolphin’s survival in Laos and the greater Mekong.”

There are approximately 85 dolphins left in the Mekong River, most of which reside in Cambodia.
Featured Image: Ken Marshall / CC BY 2.0