Dolphins, victims of accidental capture in the Bay of Biscay

31-03-2020
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According to the NGO Sea Shepherd, on patrol in the Bay of Biscay (southwest of France), the accidental catch of dolphins is too numerous

Three knocks on the cabin door. “Midnight and a half!”: Time to sail the sea for the team of the NGO Sea Shepherd, on patrol in the Bay of Biscay (southwest of France) against the accidental capture of dolphins.

Six people take place aboard a semi-rigid boat, with camera and camera. In the moonlight, they move away from the Sam Simon, a former meteorological observation vessel, to reach an area where pelagic trawlers fish in oxen: two vessels tow a huge funnel-shaped net.

Sea Shepherd volunteers wait, sometimes hours, for trawlers to roll up their nets, trying to be discreet. The welcome is hardly warm. “Bunch of scavengers!” launch the fishermen when they notice the boat a few meters from the net they are going up.

They fish for bass, but Sea Shepherd wants to see if any cetaceans have been caught. In a first net, an enormous mass frantically beats its tail: a tuna. A larger form stands out in the second, in the middle of the fish. “A shark?” Says the Sea Shepherd videographer.

The Sam Simon arrived on December 22 in the Bay of Biscay and will stay there until the end of February, for the second consecutive winter. Its goal? Put the spotlight on the dolphin catches. “The problem has been going on for 30 years, but there was a form of omerta,” said Lamya Essemlali of Sea Shepherd France.

The Pelagis Observatory, which documents the peaks of stranding of cetaceans, has noted a worsening of the situation since 2016.

More than 11,000 dolphins died in 2019

“2019 was the year of all records”, with 1,200 strandings of small cetaceans between January and April, the most deadly period, including 880 common dolphins, announces the biologist Hélène Peltier. In total 11,300 common dolphins would have died, because the majority of the corpses sank or was carried offshore.

80% of dolphins autopsied by Pelagis carry traces of collision with fishing gear: cuts, broken teeth, damaged rostrum, asphyxiation. “The fishermen go to areas where there is fish, the dolphins too,” explains Yves Le Gall, acoustics manager at Ifremer.

The number of common dolphins is estimated at 200,000 in the Bay of Biscay. For scientists, if more than 1.7% of the population dies due to human activities, it is in danger. “We are far beyond,” notes Hélène Peltier, stressing that “animals accidentally killed are in good health”.

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