Cetacean Society International

Whales Alive! - Vol. X No. 2 - April 2001

News Items

Compiled by William Rossiter

China's Response To Extinction: The Shanghai Star reported in early April that the white-flag dolphin or baiji might be the first dolphin species to become extinct as a result of human impacts. A recent count of the baiji was less than 100. Beginning with several thousand dolphins the baiji population had been reduced to about 400 by the 1980s. By 1990 there were 200 left. A major effort by 300 scientists and researchers in 1997 found only 13 dolphins. With a life span of 30 years, and only one baby dolphin seen in recent years, is recovery possible?

The Yangtze River is a major shipping route, denying habitat through noise and churning propellers. Dams, illegal sand collection, and water pollution from factories, pesticide and wastes keep the river's ecosystem unbalanced. Over-fishing is rampant, leaving little for the dolphins. Illegal fishing gear such as electricity and gillnets are very harmful to the baiji, but rolling hooks are the worst, having injured 50% of dead dolphins found.

Researchers from the Institute of Hydrobiology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences have concluded that the best way to save the baiji is to raise them in natural or semi-natural reserves. But efforts to catch and contain the necessary 20 dolphins to keep the species alive have been unsuccessful. One baiji dolphin, named Qiqi, an artificially-bred male, has survived alone at the Institute of Hydrobiology for 23 years, and is now the focus of cloning experiments.

The finless porpoise is another endangered cetacean in the Yangtze River, with a recently declined population of 1,000 to 2,000. The white Chinese dolphin and dugong are also threatened by deteriorating water quality and harsh living conditions.

The Ministry of Agriculture has formulated a protection plan to establish one semi-natural and five natural reserves to be set up along the Yangtze River, with monitoring stations. 95 million yuan ($11.5 million) will be spent on natural reserves, research centers and aid stations.

At least 171 melon-headed whales were found beached on Tanegashima Island, off the southern tip of mainland Kagoshima Prefecture in Japan, in mid-March. About 50 locals and surfers returned 127 whales to the sea, but 44 died, according to the Japan Times. It's gratifying to glimpse the humane side of a culture that otherwise seems so intent on killing whales and dolphins.

NATO will use four U.S. Navy dolphins to find mines and other munitions rusting off Norway's coast since World War II, during the "Blue Game" exercise, from 23 April until 11 May. The dolphins will locate with echolocation a small fraction of an estimated 80,000 mines and other munitions, and attach marker buoys for retrieval. A two-week exercise in the Baltic Sea last year located 83 mines, although conditions were much more favorable. Military divers from the United States, Germany, Britain, Canada, the Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium and Norway will participate. The U.S. Navy is proud to show what the dolphins can do. Hopefully the dolphins will think it is a game. CSI thinks it is immoral exploitation, similar to experimenting with unwitting servicemen exposed to deadly diseases. It makes us wonder sadly what we don't hear about.

Connecticut's Mystic Aquarium has had two beluga whales and three dolphins die over the past three years. In mid-March Misty, a 24-year-old Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, died of what preliminary tests determined was a staphylococcus bacteria infection. In January Stormy the dolphin, one of the most popular animals in the aquarium's history, died from the same bacterial infection. The dolphin Nina died from a cancerous tumor in 1999. Also that year, Aurora, a beluga whale, died from an aorta rupture and lung disease. Winston, a beluga on loan from the New York Aquarium for breeding purposes, died in 1998 from bacteria in a fish it ate. Over the previous seven years Mystic aquarium had not lost a marine mammal. The aquarium is very proud of their animal care program and staff. Mystic has been very open about these unfortunate events, committing major resources to cure Misty during her illness. Misty's common dolphin companion has shown no evidence of the bacteria. Neither have sharks in an adjacent pool. There has been no evidence of any violations of animal-care regulations and there are no plans to investigate the two dolphin deaths.

Dolphin Liberty, a grass roots citizen-based organization in Virginia Beach, Virginia, U.S.A., led the defeat of a $55 million proposal by the Virginia Marine Science Museum to build a dolphin tank to display captive bred dolphins. The City Council adopted a resolution in February to remove this project from the city's Capital Improvement Budget. Dolphin Liberty began the battle with no money and no political connections, but was quickly joined in an international protest. Virginia Beach developed a serious image problem when local police confessed to secretly infiltrating protest group meetings. PETA and others also sued local officials for failure to comply with the Freedom of Information Act.

The Tethys Research Institute workshop entitled "Collisions between cetaceans and vessels: can we find solutions?", will be hosted by the 15th Annual Conference of the European Cetacean Society on 6 May, in Rome, Italy. This meeting is intended to update the problems, with emphasis on European waters, and to provide contributions for real and concrete solutions. The ECS web page is: http://www.europeancetaceansociety.eu/.

Many people write to CSI for information about careers. For marine mammal science may we suggest http://pegasus.cc.ucf.edu/~smm/, http://www-marine.stanford.edu/HMSweb/careers.html and http://scilib.ucsd.edu/sio/guide/career.html.

The 14th Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals, sponsored by the Society for Marine Mammalogy, will be from 28 November to 3 December 2001, at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. For more information, see http://www.smmconference.org or e-mail mmconf@vanaqua.org.

National Marine Fisheries Service now calls itself NOAA Fisheries, sometimes. Rather than ask why, please just tolerate both names in this Whales Alive! as we scurry to keep up.

The town council of Virgin, Utah, U.S.A. has passed an "ordinance outlawing the designation of endangered species within its borders" according to the Christian Science Monitor of 14 March. The desert town has also banned most environmentalists and prohibits the "recognition of any wetlands locally" as well as making it a "crime not to own a gun." Happily, Virgin, Utah is located well away from civilization.

Go to next article: In Memoriam: David McTaggart, 1932-2001 or: Table of Contents.

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