Along the typically quiet coastline of France, hundreds and hundreds of mutilated dolphins have washed ashore.
Between January and March 2019, over 1,100 dead dolphins have washed up onto beaches around the Bay of Biscay on the French Atlantic coast, according to Pelagis Observatory, a marine mammal research facility in La Rochelle, southwest France.
Mass deaths of dolphins are actually not unusual in this corner of Europe. Each year since the 1990s, hundreds of dolphins are killed off France’s west coast by large industrial fishing trawlers as a result of accidental by-catch, many of which become beached on the French coast.
Pelagis Observatory, who have carried out autopsies on many of the dolphins, believe 90 percent of the bodies show signs of being killed by accidental capture in fishing nets. Many of the dolphins' bodies are covered in slashes and other injuries as a result of being trapped and removed from the nets.
Even though this is a regular occurrence, this year’s statistics are shockingly high – around 30 times higher than the normal levels – and no one is quite sure why.
“There’s never been a number this high,” Willy Daubin, a member of La Rochelle University’s National Center for Scientific Research told Associated Press. “Already in three months, we have beaten last year’s record, which was up from 2017 and even that was the highest in 40 years.”François de Rugy, the French minister of ecology, has recently announced plans to tackle the issue. Along with increasing public awareness of the problems at hand, they hope to install France’s first action plan for the protection of dolphins and whales.
However, marine wildlife conservation non-profit, Sea Shepherd, is skeptical about the promise of change. They argue that the French government often condemns the practice and promises to bring in new protection measures, but they have consistently proven ineffective.
One of the preventative methods touted by the French government is the use of “pingers,” acoustic-pumping devices that supposedly repel dolphins. However, Sea Shepherd argues they are ineffective and that many trawlers don’t turn theirs on because they also scare away valuable fish. Just last week, a Sea Shepherd activist team observed a French trawler capture a dolphin. They only turned on the pinger after they realized they were being filmed on camera.
“The time for endless government press releases promising more meetings that always result in ridiculous "measures" is over! Thirty years of talking and we’re getting nowhere,” Lamya Essemlali, President of Sea Shepherd France, said in a statement.
“That's enough! We demand the prohibition of all non-selective fishing methods in sensitive areas, and particularly in areas where marine mammals live.”
“France continues to allow destructive fishing methods in sensitive areas while refusing to require independent observers on their ships,” she added. “How long will we sacrifice the ocean and our common heritage to avoid offending a few fishing boats that loot the sea without scruples?”