Thursday, October 18, 2007

Caspian Sea: Dolphins deaths are under investigation

Despite reports of an assassination plot Russian President Vladimir Putin is going ahead with a planned trip to Iran during which he will discuss the nuclear issue with the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad before attending a conference of countries bordering the Caspian Sea. Citing Russian sources, the Interfax news agency reported that suicide terrorists were to carry out an attempt on Putin's life in Iran.

The Kremlin reported that the Russian leader was informed of the threats, but insisted that his trip would proceed in any case. "Of course I am going to Iran," Putin told reporters at a news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel following talks in Wiesbaden. "If I always listened to all the various threats and the recommendations of the special services I would never leave home." One of the issues Putin and his fellow leaders will face when they tackle the Caspian Sea problem will be the inexplicable deaths of 79 dolphins, whose bodies were washed to shore in September near the Iranian port of Jask.

The deaths of the dolphins were reported by the Kayhan and Etemad Iranian newspapers. In addition, six whales have also washed up along the Iranian shore in recent months. Radio Free Europe reported in early October that spillage and high levels of pollution in the Persian Gulf were to blame for the dolphin and whale deaths. Furthermore, containers carrying oil byproducts sprung leaks in the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas July 15, allowing toxic sludge to seep into the Gulf waters.

The containers were owned by Tavanir, the state electricity provider. The spill polluted an 800-square-kilometer (309-square-mile) section of the Gulf. The Fars News Agency reported that a source in the Hormozegan Province said that provincial officials were told to "remain silent" on the topic of the oil spill for fear of negative publicity. Environmental issues have not figured prominently on the Iranian agenda. Mohammad Baqer Nabavi, the deputy head of Iran's Environmental Protection Organization, conceded that "chemical pollution" or oil may have contributed to the dolphin deaths.

Quoted in Etemad, Nabavi proposed that the dolphins may have simply become disoriented and lost their way. Nabavi also speculated that sonar from US submarines may have contributed to the deaths. Ehrahim Kahrom, an Iranian environmentalist, informed Etemad that the Gulf is 47 times more polluted than under normal conditions. Kahrom conjectured that a pod of dolphins may have surfaced amidst the oil sludge and died from toxic pollutants.

Kahrom noted that the junction of the Gulf and the Oman Sea is the most polluted region of the southern seas. The Gulf is home to 13 different dolphin species, some of which are in danger of extinction. In addition to dolphins and whales, other marine life, including the local fish and coral populations, are also threatened by the environmental degradation.

Quick "Facts about Dolphins"