Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Dolphin calves received a name!

No, they’re not two Bahamian women, but the newest members of the dolphin family at Dolphin Encounters on Blue Lagoon Island.

After months of waiting and hundreds of name suggestions from Bahamian students across the country, officials finally announced the dolphins’ names Friday.

More than 500 students submitted names in the baby-naming contest, and submissions were continuing to pour in, but in the end three students snagged top prizes.

Dorothy Mae Eldmire of Kingsway Academy chose the name "Gussie Mae" and Nathalia Durham of Doris Johnson High School and Marissa Maura of the Lyford Cay School both won for choosing "Laguna."

Ms. Maura explained what led her to select the name Laguna.

"I chose the name because it reminded me of my fifth grade end-of-year class trip to Blue Lagoon Island. I thought it was really fun," she said.

Ms. Durham did likewise.

"Laguna is the Latin word for Lagoon. It is a shallow body of water connected to a larger body of water and it is where Laguna will make her home," she said

Ms. Eldmire also explained how she made her name selection.

"I think it’s the perfect name for a well-rounded Bahamian dolphin," she said.

Alyssa Harrison of the North Eleuthera Primary School, Andrew Kiriaze of the Lyford Cay School, Brandon Wilson of Saints Francis and Joseph Primary School and Tianna Bethel of Carlton Francis Primary School all received honourable mentions.

All of the students spent the day on Blue Lagoon Island and met the newly named dolphins.
The students who chose the names received plaques, pictures of the baby dolphin they named and a Dolphin Adventure programme for their entire class and their teacher.

The class will meet the dolphins face-to-face and the student winners will be given the opportunity to show their friends the dolphins they named.

The two baby dolphins bring the total number of dolphins over on Blue Lagoon Island to 19.
Robert Meister, managing director of Dolphin Encounters, said the operation has been very fortunate to have three dolphin calves born in the last several months.

"Through our many educational programmes, thousands of school children have met and have come to love our dolphins as much as we do and we wanted them to have the honour of choosing names for two of our new calves," he said.

"Picking from among hundreds of really wonderful names was extremely difficult, but the names Gussie Mae and Laguna stood out and suit the two dolphin calves perfectly."

Gussie Mae was born in early September to mother Chippy, and Laguna was born to Dot in October.

The third calf, a male, was born in September to Nina and was named Cacique by the Dolphin Encounters staff.

Kim Terrell, marine mammal director at Dolphin Encounters, said all three calves are doing well.
"Having three babies born around the same time is a wonderful accomplishment for a planned breeding programme. When dolphins successfully breed under human care, it is a scientific indicator that they are completely adapted to the environment in which they live," she said.
"The fact that 11 of our 19 dolphin family members were born at Dolphin Encounters makes us proud that the all natural environment we have provided is ultimately ideal for the Atlantic Bottlenose dolphin."

Mr. Meister congratulated all of the students who sent in names.

"So many wonderful names were sent from many islands and we learned how much the children of the Bahamas care about our dolphins. As a Bahamian company with a family that is also 100 percent Bahamian we wanted our babies to reflect our culture. Gussie Mae, Laguna and Cacique are now the newest Bahamians to join our dolphin family," he said.

Since 1989, Dolphin Encounters has offered visitors a unique opportunity to interact with the Atlantic Bottlenose dolphins, including the internationally famous "Flipper."

The dolphins range from newborn to 40 year-old. There are also six California sea lions.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Vancouver Aquarium's Pacific white-sided dolphin is pregnant!

They won't have to figure out where to hold the baby shower for this newborn. Hana, the Vancouver Aquarium's Pacific white-sided dolphin, is pregnant. She's expected to give birth sometime this summer.

Based on blood tests, an ultrasound and observations, staff believe the 12-year old dolphin and her fetus are doing well.

Spinner dolphin's specie is at risk!

A carcass of a spinner dolphin was found washed ashore near Kottivakkam beach on Sunday.
According to K. Venkatraman, Member-Secretary of National Biodiversity Authority of India, such dolphins were commonly sighted off the Chennai coast a decade ago. Its population in the wild is rapidly decreasing.

Mr. Venkatraman said such dolphins were slender with a thin, long beak. They have a distinct stripe connecting the long, pointed flippers to the eyes.

They are also known as long-snouted spinner dolphins. The dolphin species is called spinner because it can make seven spins in water.

An adult may be 1.3 to 2.1 metres long and weigh up to 75 kg. They are found in tropical and sub-tropical oceans and feed on fishes and squids. The most significant threat to this dolphin species is fishing nets. Also, there is a great demand for dolphin meat world over. However, this species is protected under the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES).

Four varieties

There are four varieties of long-snouted dolphins found in the wild.

Mr. Venkatraman said the government should initiate action for a study on the dwindling dolphin species and scientists should research the dolphin's habitat and behavioural pattern.

Rescued dolphin now entertains flocks in show

A dolphin that was rescued from a life-threatening incident 10 years ago has become the star of a show at an oceanfront aquarium in Sakai, Fukui Prefecture.

In January 1997, the Russian tanker Nakhodka ran aground off the Fukui coast spilling oil that spread toward Echizen Matsushima Aquarium, where the dolphin was being raised as a 7-month-old calf.

Dozens of volunteers gathered to clear up the oil using absorbent mats, but to little effect.

All 14 dolphins in the aquarium could have died if the oil had entered their lungs, so the aquarium decided to relocate them.

As for the calf and its mother, a decision was taken to relocate them to Kobe's Suma Aqua Life Park. But Kobe is more than 200 kilometers from Sakai, and it was not known if a calf so young could survive such a journey in a truck.

Aquarium staff were afraid it might die of stress if placed in a container on the truck as he was too young to be tranquilized. In the end, it was decided to place the young dolphin and its mother in separate transparent containers placed alongside each other.

"I told him: 'Hang on! You're traveling with your mother,'" a volunteer said. The calf survived the six-hour journey to the Kobe marine park, where its weight increased from 88 kilograms to 250 kilograms in six months. It was then transferred to the Sakai aquarium.

The dolphin measured 188 centimeters in length last January and had grown to 270 centimeters by July, but Takafumi Suzuki, the aquarium manager, still remembers it as a "cute baby."

He is also grateful to the volunteers. "I would like to tell children about the marvelous bond that developed between the volunteers who saved the dolphins," he said.

He also said the aquarium wanted to publish a book highlighting the various moments when the volunteers came together to protect the dolphins.

And now it's 12th death for Long Island

The number of dolphins who have died since being trapped in shallow waters off eastern Long Island has risen to 12, a rescue leader said Sunday.Chuck Bowman, president of the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation, said two of the animals died overnight Saturday, which was not surprising given the severe weather conditions.

The two latest dolphin fatalities were discovered at dawn Sunday, Bowman said."We have boats in the water and are doing a search this afternoon of the whole creek," he added.About 20 of the "common dolphins" were first sighted about 11 days ago in the Northwest Harbor cove, which is north of East Hampton. Marine biologists feared for their safety.

The rescue effort has involved more than 80 people. Eight dolphins swam to safety earlier in the week after being coaxed out of the cove."Common dolphins" and another type, "white-sided" dolphins, are found throughout the year in waters off Long Island and into New England.

Typically, they stay 30 to 80 miles off shore.This group may have been chasing bait food, such as mackerel, that came closer to the coast. A preliminary study of two of the dead dolphins found their stomachs were empty.

Another dolphin dies in Long Island

The number of dolphins who have died since being trapped in a shallow creek in the waters off eastern Long Island has risen to 10, a rescue leader said Saturday evening.

Chuck Bowman, president of the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation, said it was unclear how many dolphins were still alive and that rescuers could not go out on boats Saturday because of strong winds.

"It was very dangerous," Bowman said.

The 10th dolphin's body was found midmorning Saturday, he said.

On Friday, after a weeklong rescue effort, three living but debilitated dolphins were seen still trapped. About 20 of the "common dolphins" were first sighted about 11 days ago in the Northwest Harbor cove, which is north of East Hampton. Marine biologists feared for their safety.

The rescue effort has involved more than 80 people. Eight dolphins swam to safety earlier in the week after being coaxed out of the cove.

"Common dolphins" and another type, "white-sided" dolphins, are found throughout the year in waters off Long Island and into New England. Typically, they stay 30 to 80 miles off shore.

This group may have been chasing bait food, such as mackerel, that came closer to the coast. A preliminary study of two of the dead dolphins found their stomachs were empty.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Sick dolphin stranded himself ashore

An ill dolphin stranded itself at Agawam Beach last week and was euthanized amid a recent rash of wayward dolphins in the Northeast. A dolphin was first spotted swimming off Onset Beach Thursday, local officials said.

Two other dolphins were reported, and their whereabouts are unknown. Wareham police and Onset Fire Department received calls regarding the dolphin around noontime, Assistant Harbormaster Garry Buckminster said.

At the time, he said, he was on a boat with a state biologist conducting water sampling in the area, and he could see the dolphin. The dolphin at that time was still in relatively deep water. A dolphin was later found in 6 inches of water in the Agawam Beach area — Mr. Buckminster believes it was the same one spotted off Onset Beach. "It had pushed itself up to basically inches of water in one of the inlets of the marsh," he said.

The Cape Cod Stranding Network responded to the scene. The organization provides rapid response, evaluation and humane care for stranded marine mammals, according to its Web site. The town's animal control officer, Carlston Wood, and the Wareham Fire Department also responded to the scene. The dolphin had sores and was clearly sick. The stranding network personnel euthanized it by injection at the scene, Mr. Buckminster said. "It was by far the most humane way to take care of the situation," he said.

"The dolphin was beyond ill." Dolphins have become stranded elsewhere in the state and the region. Rescuers reported some success yesterday in their attempts to lure a dozen or more wayward dolphins out of a shallow cove between the twin forks of eastern Long Island, nearly a week after the spunky mammals were first seen frolicking in the waters north of East Hampton. The common dolphins — no one is sure exactly how many are out there — became stranded last week in the Northwest Harbor cove, attracting spectators and marine biologists who feared for their safety.

Six have already died. As many as nine dolphins were chased through the narrow inlet and headed for safer waters yesterday, and the effort to rescue about three remaining animals was expected to resume today, said Charles Bowman, president of the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation. Although a rare occurrence on Long Island, dolphin strandings are an annual event in places further north, including Cape Cod, said Tony LaCasse, a spokesman for the New England Aquarium.

"Since late December, there has been a series of strandings on Cape Cod," Mr. LaCasse said. "We have a mass stranding or two every winter; last year there were over eight."

New calf for dolphin pod

The calf is the third new addition to the pod in the past two months. The three calves and their mothers were being managed to protect the dolphins as they became accustomed to visitors. Dolphin calves are totally dependent on their mothers and need to be constantly moving during their first few weeks of life.

They can become disoriented while swimming in shallow water so tourists will be asked to stay out of the water whenever a mother and calf visit the beach to reduce the risk of any misadventure. At other times visitors will be able to take part in the usual dolphin feeding program at the beach.

Pod of dolphins are being rescued in East Hampton

Rescuers in East Hampton failed yesterday to herd about 20 common dolphins through a shallow, narrow inlet and into the harbor beyond.The dolphins became stranded Tuesday and since then, four have died. A fifth was euthanized Saturday night in North Sea Harbor in Southampton.

"They're stressed; they haven't been eating," said Charles Bowman, president of the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation.Rescuers said they did not know the reason behind the mass stranding, which happens when animals beach themselves or become trapped in shallow waters. Scientists have also been puzzled by the apparently high number of strandings this winter over a large geographic area, from Long Island to Boston, New England Aquarium spokesman Tony LaCasse said yesterday.

Eight common dolphins were stranded in Boston Harbor yesterday and more than 30 animals have stranded on Cape Cod since Dec. 30, LaCasse said.In several cases, necropsies showed that the dolphins had underlying health issues, though it will be weeks before final test results are in. "It definitely has everyone's attention," LaCasse said.Unfavorable conditionsNew England Aquarium scientists were helping to coordinate the East Hampton rescue effort, which included about 80 people from local, state and regional agencies.

The U.S. Coast Guard and the National Marine Fisheries Service also were involved.Scientists said they believed the mass stranding in Northwest Creek was the first of its kind on Long Island.They hoped noise would chase the dolphins out of the shallow waters, but after more than three hours it was clear the plan would not work, and they began to think about today's efforts.

Seven boats circled the mammals as pilots revved their motors and passengers banged oars in hopes that the racket would push the adult and calf dolphins through the inlet.But as the animals neared freedom, they darted from the shallow inlet back into the creek. On the third and final attempt, the dolphins skirted the shore and swam into a shallow area near where curious residents had gathered along the dunes to watch the rescue attempt.

"They seem to be immune from noises now," said Connie Merigo, a senior scientist and stranding specialist from the New England Aquarium who was coordinating the movement of the boats.A thick fog rolled in just after noon and low tide neared, halting the rescue attempt."They hit 4 feet of water and it was like hitting a brick wall," said Charles T. Hamilton, regional emergency response coordinator for New York State's Department of Environmental Conservation. "It's like trying to make a Chihuahua jump over a 6-foot fence," he added.

The dolphins arrived in the creek seven days ago, attracting curious onlookers who flocked to see the animals, which typically stay offshore. So many people came Saturday that East Hampton town police blocked off roads leading to the area. Only local residents who could pick their way through the dunes managed to see the rescue."They were five, 10 yards off the shore," said resident Amy Wolf, who brought her children Jack, 6, and Teddy, 5, to see the animals. "You could really see them.

Next step up in the airBiologists said they planned to monitor the dolphins throughout the day yesterday and meet back today to check their condition. Hamilton said it is not clear how they will proceed, though using noise again so soon is unlikely.What's next will be determined by the weather, tides and the dolphins' behavior.Dredging the inlet to make it deeper is not an immediate option because of weather conditions and the time it would take to remove the sand. Hamilton said he fears the noise technique may be too aggravating.

Picking them up and moving them will depend on the animals' health. And there is the chance the dolphins will swim their way out on their own, Hamilton said.There are about 120,700 common dolphins in the western North Atlantic and, according to scientists, they swim in groups ranging from 10 dolphins to thousands. They can dive as deep as 660 feet and stay underwater for as long as eight minutes, LaCasse said. Their life span is 25 to 30 years.

Dolphins were stranded in Boston Harbor

Eight dolphins were discovered early Sunday on a beach in Quincy in what scientists are calling a rare mass stranding in Boston Harbor.

Passers-by discovered the dolphins at about 7 a.m. on Wollaston Beach. They were able to help two of the eight back into the water. The other six were dead.

"They had probably been high and dry since the low tide overnight," said Tony LaCasse, a spokesman for the New England Aquarium. "The best guess is that these guys were pretty disoriented."

LaCasse said no one at the aquarium could remember a similar mass stranding of dolphins in Boston Harbor, although dolphin strandings have become more common on Cape Cod, especially in winter when the dolphins may be in search of food in marshy areas.

Four of the dead dolphins were taken to the aquarium to try to determine why they may have become stranded in Boston Harbor. Two were taken to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Falmouth.

LaCasse said that while it's understandable why people would want to help the living dolphins back into the water, it's probably not a good idea because they could easily become stranded again. It's better to call police and have a dolphin rescue team evaluate the health of the dolphins and release them in deeper waters.

LaCasse said the aquarium had just moved some of its rescue staff to the outer tip of Long Island in New York to help with rescues there.

The stranding is the latest and most dramatic incident in a string of recent dolphin strandings in Massachusetts.

On Jan. 4, two dolphins were found dead on Cape Cod beaches, bringing the total number of strandings that week alone to 17, eight of which were either found dead or had to be euthanized.

Dolphins give great opportunity to be observed by scientists

About 50 dolphins that have taken up residence in Kinko Bay off Kagoshima are providing researchers with a great opportunity to observe the mammals.

For two days each month, a team of researchers, led by Kagoshima University Prof. Akihiko Shinomiya and Kagoshima Aquarium official Jun Hirose, studies the dolphins' behavorial patterns.
To help them in their research, 28 of the dolphins that are distinguishable by their color and markings, such as scratches and cuts, have been given names--IK1, IK2, etc.

Although satisfied with their efforts to date, Shinomiya and Hirose admit there is still much to learn about the mammals. For example, they are not sure what kinds of fish they consume and where they mate.

Observations of the dolphins began in 1999, with researchers and students recording visual data from boats and small planes.

Looking out over the water from a research boat, Shinomiya said, "They swim over a wide area, so it's difficult to keep track of individual dolphins."

"I can see a dolphin over there," a student yelled, as the boat sailed slowly along the coast of the bay, 40 minutes after leaving Kamoike Port in Kagoshima. The dolphin's dorsal fin dipped and rose above the water about 50 meters away.

Shinomiya, 60, and Hirose, 31, hopped from the research boat onto a smaller craft, which took them to the other side of the dolphin.

Shortly after, Hirose called to those on the boat, "Look behind us," drawing their attention to the fins of three or four dolphins bobbing among the waves before they periodically dived and resurfaced a few minutes later.

The dolphins did not seem to be bothered by the researchers taking pictures of them.

Among those on the survey team was Yoshimi Miyagawa, 23, a senior currently analyzing the DNA of dolphins as part of her thesis before she graduates in March. She said she can identify 28 of the dolphins by their markings, which she has committed to memory.

"It's taken us eight years to get to this stage," said Shinomiya, who teaches marine ecology at Kagoshima University's faculty of fisheries. "There is a long way to go from here, but we are happy to live near the water that feeds these dolphins."

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Baby Face, the cutest calf of the bottlenose dolphin specie, near Tampa Bay

Like the old song, we've Got the "Cutest Little Baby Face" of our own around here. Baby Face was the last bottlenose dolphin calf born in our area this summer. It's named after its mother, who is named Face. Face got her name because the rips on the trailing edge of her dorsal fin look like a surprised expression in silhouette.

The name Baby Face doesn't imply gender. We don't yet know if it is male or female. I bet its a little male. (One of the best-kept secrets about science is that we get to make bets all the time. Called hypotheses, they're bets all the same.)Baby Face made it through the vital first 4 months of life by Christmas, graduating from a tiny shiny newborn to a bright and lively toddler, maybe too lively.

In fact, Baby Face seems precocious. For example, Baby Face seems to roam further from mom than is typical for its age. For the majority of the 4000 kinds of mammals, mother is the center of baby's universe. Dolphin calves neither cling like infant primates nor hide in dens like carnivore kits, cubs and pups. They swim from birth although it takes about 3 months to get good at it.

Until then, they mostly stick to mother's side or she to theirs. This must make it hard for new dolphin mothers to hunt and I really wonder how they manage. Initially, Face and Baby Face were side-by-side.Each mammalian species has a typical 'magic circle' around mom within which the infant roams. Its size is generally dictated by each species' ecological niche and psychology. It grows as the infant develops. The older they get, the further they venture from mom. For individual infants, 'courage' is also influenced by their trust in mom.

Watch a mobile baby. How far they roam reveals their security in her. Judging from Baby Face's travels, Face is either a good reliable mom or an indifferent one with a crazy little boy.The evidence suggests that Face is more reliable than indifferent. Indifferent mothers don't change their behavior much. Face changed dramatically from the last four months of pregnancy to her first four months as Baby Face's mother.

She shifted who and how she spent time with other dolphins. From May to December, she spent time with an amazing 72 other dolphins, about 40 percent of dolphins we've identified. It's a peek at how dolphins use their prodigious memories. Humans have the brainpower to keep 60-80 close or good relationships in mind; the rest are acquaintances. It's an interesting parallel. Understanding that who Face spent time with is influenced who was available, here is how she changed.While pregnant, Face was a social butterfly, spending 20 percent or less of her time with individual dolphins.

As a new mother, however, she showed clear preferences, some predictable, others odd.Predictably, she spent over half her time with good old Tanks and DD1, both mothers in the past. She spent more time with Q, another past mother. Intriguingly, she also spent more time with DD2, a local bull. Equally intriguing, he spent a lot of time swimming with Baby Face like a mom. Oddly, in her late pregnancy, Face was never with X . After giving birth, Face spent more time with her than anyone else. The same basically held for mom White Front. However, both have year-old calves.

Her social circle excluded 25 other dolphins completely.Predictably, she changed how she behaved. In late pregnancy, Face was in the middle of dolphin social events. As a new mother, she stayed on the periphery of them, shepherding vulnerable little Baby Face out of harm's way . Though its life is filled with other dolphins, Baby Face is the only newborn around at the moment. It only zips around the older calves without, as far as we know, wrestling with them just yet. What do you bet that little Baby Face is going to keep up?

Eight years old author hopes to sell her stories to save dolphins

The eight-year-old dolphin lover hopes to sell her stories called Dolphy Saves The Planet - Bit by Bit, to raise money to protect the UK's shorelines.The stories were illustrated by Amy's friend, 14-year-old Sophie Stevens from Solihull.Katherine Stephenson from the Marine Conservation Society thinks Amy is a very determined young girl.

She said:" The sky's the limit with Amy. It would be great for her to go out and see these animals."The Lapworth Primary School pupil has not yet found anyone to print her stories. She is looking for someone to do the job free of charge so all money raised from the books can be used to protect her favourite creatures.

Miss Stephenson hopes that someone will get involved with the book, by printing it, designing it or covering the cost of producing it in either book or leaflet form.She said:"It is such a lovely thing to get involved with."The girls can have their moment in the spotlight.

"It would be a brilliant thing for them."Anyone wanting to help Amy should contact Katherine Stephenson on 01989 566 017 or email her at katherine@mcsuk.org.Those wishing to support the society can join online by phoning 01989 566017. www.mcsuk.org

Two out of three stranded dolphins survive their ordeal

Another dolphin death occurred in Wellfleet on Tuesday after the marine mammal became stranded in the waters off Chequessett Neck Road.

Witnesses say that several dolphins appeared on the beach around 8:15 a.m.

The Cape Code Stranding Network says that three of the animals were successfully saved and sent back out to sea in Truro. However, they did have to euthanize one other dolphin.

"We had two animals that did really, really well initially in the water, and one that took a wave as we let it go," said Katie Touhey, of the Cape Cod Stranding Network. "We do them all at the same time. One had a little bit of a rocky start, but then seemed to be swimming quite well. So, hopefully they'll stick together, and they'll be alright out there."Later, workers rushed back out to Wellfleet to rescue another trio of dolphins that was stranded.

Last week, dolphins also washed up along Skaket Beach. Dolphin strandings have recently occurred on Cape Cod from beaches in Barnstable to Wellfleet. This January so far, a total of 31 dolphin strandings have been reported. Animal rescuers are doing everything they can to save the dolphins. However, with the recent strandings, it is difficult not to think back to last year.

In the first few weeks of 2006, there were 100 dolphin strandings on the Cape -- half of the annual average.

"It's January, and if anyone remembers back to last January, we were extraordinarily busy with dolphin strandings here on the Cape," Touhey said. According to the Cape Cod Stranding Network, where one of these animals is seen, there are typically others nearby.

"These animals are very socially cohesive," Touhey said. "They stick to large groups in the wild, which is great if you are hunting or evading large predators. But when one of them comes ashore, because of that group mentality, they tend to stick together."

The Cape Cod Stranding Network asks that anyone who comes across a stranded animal contact them. They can be reached at 508-743-9548.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Activists face dolphin hunters

IN Taiji, the fishermen say that dolphin tastes like venison or beef. But eaten raw with a dab of ginger and soy sauce, the glistening dark flesh resembles liver with a coppery aftertaste that lingers on the roof of the mouth long after you’ve chewed it past your protesting taste buds. The ripe, tangy smell stays longer.

“I hate cutting up dolphin,” says Toshihiro Motohata, who runs a nearby whale-meat shop. “The stink stays on you for days, even after several baths.” Dolphin-hunting season has arrived again in this sleepy harbour town. Since October, about 2,000 small whales and striped, bottlenose, spotted and risso’s dolphins have been slaughtered for meat that ends up on the tables of local homes and restaurants and in vacuum-packed bags in supermarkets.

By the end of March, 1,000 more will go the same way, part of what is probably the largest annual cull of cetaceans - about 36,000 around coastal Japan according to environmentalists — in the world. Six hours from Tokyo and accessible only via a coastal road that snakes through tunnels hewn from dense, pine-carpeted mountains, Taiji for years escaped the prying eyes of animal rights activists, but the isolation has been abruptly ended by the Internet and the cheap rail pass.

A steady trickle of foreign protesters - most Japanese people know little about the tradition — now arrives in the rusting town square to cross swords with the local bureaucrats and the 28 fishermen who run the hunt. As Taiji’s notoriety has grown, fuelled by gruesome videos of the dolphin kill posted on You-Tube and by celebrity criticism from Joaquin Phoenix, Ted Danson and other high-profile environmentalists, tensions have sharpened.

Protesters have repeatedly clashed with the fishermen. Nets and boats have been sabotaged, activists arrested and several environmental groups have been effectively banned from the town. Foreigners now almost inevitably mean trouble, especially when they come with cameras; locals speak with special venom of a BBC documentary that they say depicted them as barbarians. “One fisherman told me if the whalers could kill me, they would,” says the best-known protestor, Ric O’Barry, who once trained dolphins for the 1960’s TV series Flipper.

“But I always try to stay on the right side of the law. If I get arrested, I’m out of this fight.” Around Taiji and in the nearby towns of Kii-Katsura and Shingu, whale meat has been eaten for hundreds of years, claim local officials. Restaurants and shops offer dolphin and whale sashimi and humpback bacon, along with tuna and shark-fin soup. A canteen next to the Taiji Whale Museum, where dolphins and small whales are trained to perform tricks for tourists, sells Minke steak, sashimi and whale cutlets in curry sauce in a room decorated with posters of the 80 or so cetaceans of the world: whales, dolphins and porpoises.

According to local wholesaler Ikuo Mizutani, dolphin meat sells for about 2,000 yen (about $16) a kilo, cheaper than beef or whale. Unlike most Japanese children, who have no idea of what whale tastes like, Taiji kids know their cetaceans. “I don’t like the taste of dolphin because it smells,” says 9-year-old Rui Utani. “I prefer whale.” Inside the museum, out-of-towners are often stunned to learn of the local tradition. “I’m shocked,” says Keiko Shibuya from Osaka.

“I couldn’t imagine eating dolphin. They’re too cute.” The hunts are notoriously brutal and blue tarpaulin sheets block the main viewing spots overlooking the cove where the killings take place to prevent picture-taking. Beyond the cove, a small fleet of boats surround a pod of migrating dolphins, lower metal poles into the sea and bang them to frighten the animals and disrupt their sonar. Once the panicking, thrashing dolphins are herded into the narrow cove, the fishermen attack them with knives, turning the sea red before dragging them to a harbour-side warehouse for slaughter. The fishermen, who consider dolphins just big fish, like tuna, are bewildered that anyone would find this cruel, dubbing the weekend protesters “extremists”.

“If you walked into an American slaughterhouse for cows it wouldn’t look very pretty either,” says one, who identifies himself only as Kawasaki. “The killing is done in the open here so it looks worse than it is.” Most are descended from families that have been killing and eating the contents of the sea around Taiji for generations and reject arguments that dolphins are “special”. Says Kawasaki: “They’re food, like dogs for the Chinese and Koreans.”

O’Barry claims, however, that he was told in private by town officials that tradition is not the real reason for the hunts. “It’s pest-control; they’re over-fishing and want to kill the competition for the fish. That’s unacceptable. These animals don’t have Japanese passports, they belong to the world. They’re just trying to get around this town and these 28 guys.” He calls the town “schizophrenic”.

“It’s as pretty as a 1950s postcard and the people are so friendly, but this secret genocide takes place every year.” The schizophrenia is sharpest, say activists, in the Taiji Whale Museum, where tickets for “whale-watching trips” in dolphin-shaped boats are sold while the non-performing animals bump up against each other in a tiny concrete pool.

The trainers here help sort the “best-looking” dolphins from the kill and train them for use in circuses and aquariums across Asia and Europe. The museum recently made the world’s science pages when the fishermen handed over a rare dolphin with an extra set of fins, possibly proving that they once had legs and lived on land. But O’Barry says the story had a dark side.“The Japanese media didn’t report that this particular dolphin was taken away from her mother by dolphin trainers.

The mother’s throat was slit and then she was butchered in the Taiji slaughter house along with more than 200 other bottlenose dolphins.” The bitter controversy over what fishermen in Taiji and other Japanese ports take from the sea is salted with nationalism, one reason why they are backed to the hilt by the Tokyo government. In a country that produces just 40% of its own food, fisheries bureaucrats bristle at “emotional” lectures from Western environmentalists, and amid an intensifying fight for marine resources, they are determined not to yield to them.

For some, cetaceans are a line in the sand. “If we lose on whales, what will happen next,” asks Akira Nakamae, Deputy Director General of Japan’s Fisheries Agency. “Next” means tuna, a stable of the Japanese diet in contrast to whale which is a minor delicacy now eaten by a tiny proportion of the population. Japan’s voracious appetite for tuna shows no sign of abating: a report last December claimed that Japanese fishermen poached a staggering 100,000 tons of the coveted southern Bluefin tuna above quota between 1996 and 2005. The Taiji fishermen deny they are taking too much from the sea.

“We would be cutting our own throats,” says Kazutoyo Shimetani, the sales manager of the dolphin hunters’ co-operative in Taiji. The co-operative -essentially a closed guild — says is rigidly controls fishing, limiting dolphin hunting to just 28 of the town’s 500-odd fishermen.Taiji’s growing Internet fame has widened the cultural gulf between the town and the rest of the world, and most senior officials will no longer talk to Western journalists.

The head of the local board of education, Yoji Kita, who lectures on whaling to schools and colleges, agrees to a brief, testy meeting. Like many in the town hall, he is defensive, accusing Westerners of failing to understand or explain Japan’s culture to their readers and of inciting protesters, but he is guardedly polite until a question about the dangerously high mercury levels detected in whales and dolphins sets him off.“Why pick on those as reasons to stop eating them,” he asks, voice rising. “The whole environment is poisoned. There is no point in talking to you because you don’t want to listen. That’s just racism,” he says, standing to terminate the interview. “It’s very difficult,” sighs a clerk in the museum.

“The town leaders are just so tired of having to deal with this. They want it to go away.” There seems little chance they’ll get their wish, despite an offer to fund the retirement of the dolphin hunters from a US environmental group. Few in the town took the offer seriously, and the fishermen say they would in any case reject it. “Why should we give up our tradition on the orders of somebody else,” says Shimetani. In a world wracked with wars, greed and environmental destruction, the fate of a few thousand animals might seem small fry, but activists say the plight of the dolphins is connected to all three.

“The dolphin hunt is a symbol of our utilitarian view of nature,” says O’Barry. “That we can use and abuse the sea. I honestly believe when the world finds out about this it will be abolished. It can’t possibly survive the light of day.”

Trapped dolphin was rehabilitated and is to be released soon

"Kingy'' was named after Kings Beach on the Sunshine Coast where lifeguards rescued him after he became entangled in shark nets last September.

During his ordeal, Kingy's pectoral fin was almost severed and he suffered extreme exhaustion.
But he responded well to specialist care and will be set free in waters near where he was found.
Sea World's director of marine sciences Trevor Long said Kingy had a "wonderful temperament'' and staff would be sorry to see him go.

"His injuries were quite bad,'' Mr Long told ABC Radio today. "He was very fortunate he got caught near the top of the net which allowed him to breathe,'' he said.

"A lot of animals and dolphins are caught underneath the water and they drown.''

Initially, vets doubted whether they could save Kingy's badly damaged pectoral fin but he proved a resilient patient, and pulled through with the right care and food.

And it was an added bonus for staff when Kingy, believed to be in middle age, turned out to be a "bit of a character''.

"He looks up at you all the time,'' Mr Long said. "Every time you come over he's very, very, alert,'' Mr Long said.

The dolphin was to be released off the tip of nearby Bribie Island today.

"This animal would know these waters extremely well and his movements will be regulated by the tides and the moon and aggregations of fish.

"So it won't take him long before he finds his pod and I think one of the most difficult things for him will be to convince his mates where he's been.''

Fisherman shot at dolphin and was charged

An Orange Beach charter boat captain has been accused of shooting a dolphin that was trailing behind his fishing vessel in the Gulf of Mexico.

The U.S. attorney’s office in Mobile charged Don G. Walker, 50, with unlawfully taking a marine mammal for allegedly shooting the dolphin on June 10.

“We think that it’s important that all of the fishermen play by the same rules and that all of the other charters who follow the law are doing the right thing,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Maria Murphy said Tuesday.

Walker, who has operated a charter fishing business for 27 years, denied he had shot a dolphin, the Press-Register reported Wedneday. But he has agreed to plead guilty to harassing a dolphin.
“I was accused of harassment, and that’s all I’m going to say about it,” Walker said. “It’s supposed to be taken care of. I admitted to harassment.”

He will receive a summons to appear before a federal magistrate judge on the misdemeanor charge, but a court date has not yet been set. The maximum penalty for the charge is up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine.

Murphy said some of the customers made a complaint against Walker after the June 10 charter fishing trip, and one took a photograph of water spraying near the vessel from the gunshot.

The National Marine Fisheries Service is investigating the case.

Walker, who takes fishing trips daily during the season, said he believes he will get probation for the offense.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Happy New Year 2007...year of the dolphin!

The United Nations has officially declared 2007 the Year of the Dolphin to help raise awareness about the plight of the mammal around the world. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said threats faced by dolphins are on the rise, such as entanglement in fishing nets, marine pollution, starvation caused by over-fishing and noise disturbance.

The UNEP teamed up with the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) and tourist operator TUI to run the campaign throughout 2007. The group said it plans to involve governments, conservation groups and the private sector around the world to highlight the need to protect dolphin species. The campaign launch follows the announcement by scientists at the end of last year that the baiji or Yangtze River dolphin from China is now extinct.

Experts said that several other species, including the Irrawaddy dolphin found in sub-tropical waters, face a similar fate. 'As we enter this New Year, dolphins are facing more threats than ever before,' said the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society in its statement. 'Now with Year of the Dolphin, we have a unique opportunity to turn over a new leaf in dolphin conservation, and join together to secure a future for these magnificent animals.'

The Year of the Dolphin 2007 Campaign was officially launched by its patron Prince Albert of Monaco. For more information see the campaign website www.yod2007.org www.yod2007.org or the WDCS website www.wdcs.org.

Common dolphins get stranded in Cape Cod

Fourteen dolphins have washed ashore on Cape Cod Bay over the past few days.Members of the Cape Cod Stranding Network were able to push eight common dolphins back into the water. Four were found dead and two had to be euthanized.The strandings have stretched from Barnstable to Eastham.

The first dolphin was found Friday in Dennis. Several more came ashore in Brewster and Barnstable on Saturday and Sunday. Nine dolphins were found in the water near Cape Cod Sea Camps in Brewster on Monday.

Common dolphins can reach eight feet in length and weigh more than 200 pounds.Experts aren't sure if the dolphins were ill or became disoriented after getting too close to shore.

Quick "Facts about Dolphins"