Saturday, November 29, 2008

Bottlenose dolphins could be endangered by gas and oil exploration

The UK Government has agreed to investigate concerns that proposed oil and gas exploration in the Moray Firth threatens bottlenose dolphins.

The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) said it had received an assurance that potential risks to marine life would be looked into.

In March, the society collected 18,000 signatures and statements from 25 experts opposing development.

The industry has said any work would be sensitive to the environment.

In December 2007, the UK Government announced that it was likely to allow oil and gas development in blocks within the Moray Firth Special Area of Conservation as part of a new licensing round.

Sarah Dolman, WDCS head of policy for Scotland, welcomed the government's assurances on investigating the threat to dolphins.

She said: "This is a step in the right direction.

"However, we remain concerned that the government has so far failed to take into account all the possible threats to the dolphins and their collective impact."

The Moray Firth provides habitat for several species of marine mammals.

Porpoise, an animal not seen regularly in the sea around the Kessock Bridge at Inverness for a number of years, was thought to be making a comeback.

Earlier this year, Charlie Phillips, of the WDCS, said porpoise sightings had been reported.
They were most likely preying on sand eels.

Dolphins have a powerful kick

Think Olympic golden boy Michael Phelps has the most powerful kick in the water?
Well, he's a guppy when compared to dolphins.

Researchers have determined that dolphins use 212 pounds of thrust to propel themselves at more than 20 miles an hour. That's more than triple the thrust that a top Olympic swimmer like Phelps can produce.

Researchers at West Chester University in Pennsylvania and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy used sophisticated underwater video to measure the power of a dolphin's tail.

RPI engineering professor Tim Wei (way) used the same technique to help U.S. Olympic swimmers get the most from their stroke.

Wei is presenting the findings today in San Antonio at an American Physical Society conference.

On the Net:


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Dolphins sighted in the Humber Estuary

Dolphins and porpoises have been sighted in the Humber estuary.

They were seen by an office worker from his window at Hessle, and the sighting has since been confirmed by an expert.

The dolphins' presence has led to the Sea Watch Foundation in North Ferriby to call for observers to be recruited to look out for more of the creatures.

Local dolphin expert Dr Horace Dobbs said the closure of a nearby smelting works meant there were fewer pollutants in the estuary.

Dr Dobbs added: "It's very exciting to see, we've got everyone looking from experts to ice-cream men.

"The dolphins and harbour porpoises are following fish stocks, which reflects the increase in productivity of the Humber - there are now shoals of bass at the mouth of the estuary."

North Ferriby-based charity International Dolphin Watch has been providing information to workers whose offices overlook the estuary.

It was nearly 200 years ago that the mammals were last seen in the estuary, but they have been increasingly spotted in the past three years.

Two more dolphins deaths!

A dead dolphin was spotted floating near the Route 36 Highlands bridge early Friday morning and another was seen stranded during the weekend, but officials said the pair were not part of the original pod of bottlenose dolphins visiting the waterways.The bodies were preliminarily identified as short-nose common dolphins, which prefer warm to cool water — 52 to 88 degrees — in the ocean or offshore, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Web site.

Further, short-nose common dolphins tend to travel in large social group of hundreds of individual mammals called “mega-pods,” the Web site said.Workers on the Route 36 bridge, which is currently being replaced by the state Department of Transportation, spotted the first dolphin before 8 Friday morning, NOAA spokeswoman Teri Frady said.The workers immediately reported the incident to the Marine Mammal Stranding Center, in Brigantine, which then recovered the body, Frady said.

The second dolphin stranded near the Monmouth Beach section of the Shrewsbury River, MMSC Executive Director Robert Schoelkopf said. “It was in pretty bad shape. It was shivering and malnourished,” Schoelkopf explained, adding that it was euthanized at the scene. No other common dolphins were spotted in the area, according to Schoelkopf.

He noted that animals usually separate from the group because they cannot keep up due to weakness or illness.NOAA was awaiting species confirmation and a necropsy of both mammals as of press time.A change in the condition of the remaining 12 dolphins in the Navesink and Shrewsbury rivers has not been reported, according to Frady.

Two dolphins of the original pod were found dead during the past few months, and two have gone missing.NOAA is currently monitoring the pod, but has not moved forward with intervention as it awaits specific “triggers” before interfering.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Fresh water dolphins receive help from religious leaders

Religious leaders and locals of this sleepy town are doing their bit to save the endangered fresh water dolphins found in the river Ganga.

Their efforts are bearing fruits as in the 165 km stretch of the Upper Ganga between Bijnor and Narora, the number of the endangered aquatic species is on the increase. In 1993-94, the number of the dolphins (Platanista gangetica) in this stretch was just 20. However, with the intervention of the community and with help from World
Wildlife Fund (WWF) experts, the count has doubled to around 40, including calves. Sandeep Behera, freshwater programme coordinator from WWF calls the efforts an excellent example of community participation in aquatic species conservation. Locals of Karnawas villagers have set up a sewage treatment plant to ensure that dirty water does not pollute the river and in turn wipe-out dolphins, Behera said.

"Atleast 85 families of the village are using this treatment plant. We will soon set up another such plant, again without the help of government," adds 25-year-old Himanshu Sharma, a local and volunteer with WWF. Fishing activities are banned and so is mining. "In fact now farmers have stopped using chemical fertilisers and instead started using eco-friendly manure cow-dung on the agricultural land situated on the banks of the river," Sharma says.

In yet another eco-friendly measure, farmers are being encouraged to set up vermi-composting units. Polythene is collected and then burnt at a safer place lest it choke the river, the activist adds.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

U.S. Government blames whales and dolphins for deaths due to sonars

The United States Supreme Court today ruled in favor of the Navy and against environmentalists in a case arguing that national security permits the use of high powered sonar blasts to detect hostile submarines. The ruling comes despite mounting evidence that the Navy's sonar blasts can kill whales and dolphins.In other words the government is saying that whales and dolphins are unintelligent, unfeeling animals who deserve about as much respect as that cockroach I just nuked with Raid.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion: "The Navy’s need to conduct realistic training with active sonar to respond to the threat posed by enemy submarines plainly outweighs the interests advanced by the plaintiffs."Those interests? That whales are sentient creatures and don't deserve to have their ears blown out.

Even the Navy has admitted that it is dangerous. Following the beaching of seventeen whales and a dolphin in the Bahamas in March 2000 following a sonar exercise, the Navy accepted blame in a Joint Interim Report which found the dead whales experienced acoustically-induced hemorrhages around the ears.And yet, the Navy was so confident they would win before the Supreme Court that they neglected to file an environmental impact report, which is required by the National Environmental Policy Act.

They also called on George Bush (a man of questionable intelligence himself) to exempt them from the law, even though he has no legal standing to do so.So the next time you take the kid to the aquarium make sure you reprimand him: "No Billy, don't be ridiculous. That dolphin is just a stupid animal."

Dead dolphin found in Shrewsbury River

Another dead dolphin has been discovered, this time in the Shrewsbury River, but it's not a bottlenose dolphin like the ones that have been living there and in the Navesink River since June, officials said Friday.

The dead marine mammal was a common dolphin, an offshore species, said Robert C.

Schoelkopf, founding director of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine.

It was found near the construction barge next to the Highlands-Sea Bright bridge, according to Schoelkopf.

It's "very unusual" for a common dolphin to be in the river because it is a deep-sea species, he said.

"We usually don't see 'em," he said. "We get strandings of common (dolphins) along the coast, but not the river like that."

An estimated 16 bottlenose dolphins swam from the ocean and Sandy Hook Bay into the Shrewsbury River in June and then headed for the Navesink River in July. Two of the dolphins recently were found dead in the Navesink, two are unaccounted for and the rest are spending time in both rivers, according to federal officials.

"This morning's news of the death of a common dolphin serves as a reminder that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) must move to expedite the removal process for the remaining bottlenose dolphins in the Navesink and Shrewsbury Rivers," according to a statement from Rep. Frank J. Pallone Jr., D-N.J.

"As the weather continues to grow colder and conditions for the dolphins become more dangerous, NOAA must implement its plan to safely move the dolphins so that preventable deaths can be avoided," Pallone said.

But NOAA still plans to leave the dolphins where they are unless they become stranded, ill or distressed, according to Teri Frady, a NOAA spokeswoman.

Menhaden, a prime source of nourishment for the dolphins, are still in the area.

A harbor seal spotted at the southern end of the Shrewsbury was a photographed with a menhaden fish in its mouth, Schoelkopf said.

Meanwhile, a necropsy will be done on the dead dolphin at the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center in Kennett Square, Pa., to determine "how fresh it is, whether it died in the river or died and floated in," he said.

"The initial ID on the dead dolphin is that it's a common dolphin, a different species from the group that we have in the Shrewsbury-Navesink," Frady said in an e-mail.

Todd B. Bates: (732) 643-4237 or

Can dolphins outsmart humans?

Partly because their brains are roughly the same size as humans, and are similarly or superiorly complex (although differently evolved in structure), some marine biologists have speculated that dolphins, and other Cetaceans, are at least as intelligent as humans, and could have several unknown communicative abilities, that surpass human understanding.

Critics say that if dolphins were as smart as us there’d be more evidence of it. But what type of evidence would suffice? The fact that Cetaceans are suffering from (rather than creating) the kind of environmental suicide that humans indulge in, offers little proof of inferiority.

At the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Mississippi, Kelly the Dolphin has earned her reputation. In fact, it could very well be that she has now got the upper hand on her human trainers… or pets?

All the dolphins at the center are trained to retrieve trash that has mistakenly fallen in to their pools. Upon seeing a nearby trainer, they are to take said trash to the trainer. In return, they receive a fish for their cleanliness.

However it seems that Kelly found a loophole in the system, and is exploiting it to interesting ends. She hoards her trash, underneath a rock at the bottom of her pool, and when she sees a trainer she goes down and removes a piece of paper or trash to get her fish. However she won’t use all her paper at once, instead she holds on to them for the future.

It is an interesting behavior, considering that it is very much like humans storing food for the winter; it displays an awareness of tomorrow.

Dolphins have long been observed to take great care and exhibit much intelligence in their day to day lives. Scientists have observed a dolphin using the spiny body of a dead scorpion fish to extricate a moray eel out of a crevice.

Comparatively, in Australia, Dolphins have been witnessed to place sea-sponges over their snouts as they star poking around in the surrounding area. This protection helps them from being stung by stonefish and stingrays.

But it isn’t just these behaviors that seem to prove their intelligence, but also the commonalities with humans in the way that they play and learn.

Younger dolphin calves will most likely learn new things in an attempt to keep up with those around them, rather than learn directly from their mothers. From balancing kelp on their tail to swimming through bubble rings, it seems an effort to match their peers is what drives them on.

And just as young children are always trying to match those around them, so they want to enjoy the activity rather than just the outcome. It isn’t always a case of the means justifying the ends. The same goes for dolphins, who seem to beef up the level of difficulty of the games they create for themselves.

It is their ability to understand sentences of sign language that astound though, with a sentence like “touch the frisbee with your tail and then jump over it” returning just that from the dolphin. This proves more than just rigorous training is the answer, but an understanding of what we are asking of them.

The year 2007 has been declared as Year of the Dolphin by the United Nations and United Nations Environment Programme. But what do we really know about these incredible creatures? In 1967, acoustics expert Wayne Batteau developed a technique based on ultrasounds to communicate with domesticated dolphins. At the origin of the study, the US Navy cryptically decided to classify the results as top secret.

It is known that the prehistoric predecessors of Cetaceans were land animals who returned to the sea where there was relatively little fear of large predators and an abundant food supply. Dolphins seem to have rich communicative powers among themselves and are very playful. It is also known that dolphins can use tools and teach their children how to use tools.

Dolphins are one of the few animals other than humans known to mate for pleasure rather than strictly for reproduction. They form strong bonds with each other, which leads them to stay with their injured and sick. Dolphins also display protective behavior towards humans, by keeping them safe from sharks, for example.

Historically, humans have long reported an affinity with dolphins, including joint cooperative fisheries in ancient Rome and other interactions. A modern human-dolphin fishery still takes place in Laguna, Santa Catarina, Brazil.

However, humans are known to benefit from dolphins in more intangible ways, as well. One example of a little understood benefit comes from an ongoing study conducted at The AquaThought Foundation, a privately funded research organization dedicated to the exploration of human-dolphin interaction. Their research shows several significant trends that have emerged in the analysis of samples collected before and after human/dolphin interactions.

According to their research, the human subject's dominate brain frequency drops significantly after dolphin interaction. Also observable is a period of hemispheric synchronization (the brainwaves emitted from both the left and right hemispheres of the brain are in phase and of similar frequency). Also, in many instances the background EEG became more evenly distributed within the spectrum. It is believed that this phenomenon may have some sort of therapeutic effect on an individual’s emotional, or physical health.

Other institutes that study dolphins, and other Cetaceans, have reported a myriad of differing perspectives and beliefs, which range from heart-warming to downright bizarre.

The Hawaii based Sirius Institute, known for sending live humpback whalesongs into deep space, says their primary goals is for the reestablishment of interspecies communications with the biggest, most complex brains on the planet.One of their projects is an interspecies birth cohort, a group of children who would be birthed with dolphins and raised somewhat together in order to study the development of communications between the close-knit groups.

These open-minded Cetacea advocates point out that like humans, the Cetaceans transmit information culturally across generations, have the largest brains, and are the longest lived of all species. They would like humans to officially recognize the order Cetacea as a “people”. They believe that step is necessary for their preservations, as was historically necessary to stop genocide of humans. One example is the Australian aboriginal people, who were legally classed as “game animals” until 1967 when they won their “rights as human beings” in a court action.

While Cetaceans aren’t likely to take mankind to court, it has been suggested that they are willing to communicate with us—possibly in a form that WE are too stupid to cognitively interpret.
Is it possible that someday man or dolphin will have figured out a way to effectively communicate? While the concept seems strange, and fantastic—it’s worth remembering that it wasn’t that long ago when no one thought space travel was possible. At the present, enormous amounts of money, focus and energy is poured into our search for intelligent . Maybe we should be simultaneously supporting efforts to communicate with intelligent life on our own planet.

After all, it might be good practice for the future. If we someday do make contact with intelligent alien life, how would we communicate? Surely extra-terrestrials will have evolved with a much different intellectual/physical capabilities than us. Even if a particular alien life form is as intelligent or even possesses far superior cognitive abilities—that doesn’t mean we’ll have compatible biological systems for true communication.

How will we overcome those physical and intellectual communication barriers? Learning to more effectively communicate and understand differently evolved life forms on our planet may provide important insights into possible future interactions with life beyond planet Earth.

Two pods of stranded Wayward dolphins are being heard

Federal scientists have placed underwater microphones in a river near the Jersey Shore where two pods of wayward dolphins have been stranded for months.They're trying to record sounds that the dolphins might be hearing, to determine if something is scaring them from heading back out to sea.

An initial round of data removed from the devices last week is being analyzed to see if things like construction work on a nearby bridge might be disturbing them.Scientists are monitoring the group of about 12 dolphins they've allowed to remain in the Shrewsbury and Navesink rivers.

The decision to rescue the dolphins only if they seem to be in imminent danger has angered animal advocates. They say the dolphins may die this winter if they aren't helped back to sea.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Name the National Aquarium' s new dolphin calf!

Text message and online voting begins November 11

The presidential election has come and gone, but the National Aquarium still needs your vote! The newest addition to the dolphin colony is now 3 months old and the Aquarium is calling on the public to choose her name. From November 11 - 20, people are invited to vote for their favorite of five names by text messaging or visiting

Born on July 27, 2008, the Atlantic bottlenose dolphin calf is the 10th successful dolphin birth at the National Aquarium since 1990. The new calf joins her parents, 16-year-old female Chesapeake, and 25-year-old male Chinook, and 6 other adult dolphins. She also shares the nursery pool with another youngster.

Foster was the youngest of the dolphin colony and turned one in September.

The Aquarium's marine mammal staff and volunteers gathered name ideas while watching the calf grow over the last three months. The names have now been narrowed to five choices that each have a strong tie to Maryland, and fit well with the young calf's developing personality.

Bayley (after her mother, Chesapeake, and the Bay)

Calli (after Callinectes, the genus of the blue crab, and Cal Ripken)

Charm (because she lives in Charm City)

Hanna (after the Susquehanna River)

Sassafras (after the Sassafras River)

The Aquarium is encouraging people to vote on or or by texting the letter "A" for Bayley, "B" for Calli, "C" for Charm, "D" for Hanna, or "E" for Sassafras to 88509. Standard text messaging rates apply.

Voting will close on November 20th and the calf's name will be announced live at the Aquarium during the WBAL-TV morning show on Saturday, November 22. WBAL-TV is the exclusive media partner for the naming event.

Help support our dolphin calf's care and feeding through a special dolphin calf Aquadopt! For a limited time only, Aquadopt-ers will receive a personalized certificate, photo, a special plush, and more! Visit for details!

The National Aquarium in Baltimore, a non-profit organization, is Maryland's most exciting and popular cultural attraction, as well as one of the region's leading conservation and education resources, hosting more than 1.6 million visitors per year.

Through transforming experiences, the National Aquarium inspires people to enjoy, respect, and protect the aquatic world. It is dedicated to education and conservation through more than a dozen programs that serve the environment and the community.

SOURCE National Aquarium in Baltimore

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Young dolphin died from illness, not from injuries

A young male dolphin that appears to have died four days ago washed up Tuesday afternoon near Holiday Inn-Emerald Beach.

A marina patrol officer spotted the dolphin about 3:20 p.m. Authorities who performed the necropsy said the mammal had no obvious injuries and appears to have died from an illness.

"Very little could be found," said Lea Walker, regional coordinator for the Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network. "There is very little that you can get when they are that far decomposed."
Walker said the mammal, which weighed about 200 to 250 pounds, was taken to an alternate location for the necropsy because it was found in a non-secluded area.

After testing, the dolphin was taken to an undisclosed location for a beach burial.

Swimming with dolphins, a dream in progress

A PIPER and drummer will be playing in the city centre to raise money for a teenage girl with a rare genetic disorder.

Friends Iain Kerr, 46, and John Park, 56, from Loanhead will be playing at the National Gallery at the Mound, as well as going round city pubs, over the coming weeks.They are supporting Natalie Humphries, 16, from Danderhall, who suffers from the rare Rett Syndrome. This is a neurological disorder, which mainly affects girls, and leads to learning and physical disabilities.

They hope to help her achieve her dream of going to swim with dolphins.Mr Kerr, who is a friend of Natalie's grandmother, Tess, said: "We've already raised around £400, but we hope to raise more by piping and drumming around Edinburgh."Our local darts team was holding a fundraiser for Natalie, and we asked her granny if there was anything we could do to help.

We decided that it was a really good cause to support. We'll be going out at weekends and playing at our usual haunts in Edinburgh and passing a bucket around." The friends both work at Braid Hills Golf Club. They are planning to raise funds for the Children in Need campaign next month.

Rescued dolphin dies!

A dolphin calf found in kelp beds off the La Jolla coast has died while being transported to the animal rescue center at SeaWorld.

San Diego Lifeguards Lt. John Greenhalgh says a boater reported seeing a whale in distress Saturday morning. Lifeguards found a young Risso's dolphin and brought it by boat to Sea World. The dolphin was dead on arrival at the theme park.

A necropsy may be performed to determine the cause of death.

Risso's dolphins are one of the larger members of the dolphin family.
Information from: The San Diego Union-Tribune,

Are Hector's dolphins in danger of extinction?

Hector's dolphins are being caught in commercial gill nets at 10 times sustainable levels, according to an Otago University researcher.

Associate professor Liz Slooten ran Hector's dolphin population data through a United States-developed potential biological removal model that looks at the impact of humans on marine mammal populations.

Dr Slooten found the Hector's dolphin population was set to shrink to 5000 in the next 50 years, from a current population estimated at just under 8000.

"On the other hand if they were protected from fisheries mortality throughout their range, they could recover to some 15,000 individuals over that same time."

Set nets, also called gill nets, are either pegged to the sea floor or moored midwater. Big fish get tangled in them.

Dr Slooten said fishermen should change to more selective methods, for example, long-lining.
The Hector's is the world's rarest dolphin.

In May, the Government announced new measures protecting Hector's and Maui dolphins, with set-netting banned up to seven kilometres off the Taranaki coast, the Marlborough Sounds and at Te Waewae Bay in Southland.

Last month commercial fishermen won a High Court ruling temporarily lifting the bans.

Care for the Wilds chief executive Barbara Maas said the research confirmed the toll fishing was having on Hector's dolphins.

Dolphin Trafficking

When I attended a recent party at the Vancouver Aquarium, I was surprised that people were allowed to walk around on the outside decks and walkways around the marine animal tanks.
I was told that smoking in these areas have been banned because someone tossed their cigarette into a tank. However, people were still carrying drinks.

There were staff monitors, one of whom warned a woman who precariously sat her drink on the fence of a swimming tank. It made me worry about the welfare of the animals.

But there's a much more serious angle to explore about the industry. Such as what the dolphins are doing there in the first place. And how they got there.

On Thursday, October 23 at 9 p.m., CBC Television's Doc Zone will feature The Dolphin Dealer.
The film follows Canadian Christopher Porter, a former Vancouver Aquarium dolphin trainer who masterminded the biggest dolphin export deal ever. Porter sells wild dolphins for about $100,000 each from the Solomon Islands to marine parks around the world.

Porter thinks there is educational value for people in their interactions with dolphins. But animal rights activist Ric O'Barry thinks otherwise. He claims that many die en route to their destinations and has ethical issues with forcing them to perform tricks throughout their lives.

Director Brad Quenville presents both sides of the controversial issue, and discovers that there isn't a clear-cut right and wrong.

Las Vegas Mirage has named its newest addition: Bella the dolphin

The Mirage’s newest addition now has a name.

A dolphin calf born Sept. 6 to 8-year-old Huf n Puf was named Bella. The calf completes three generations of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins at The Mirage’s Siegfried and Roy’s Secret Garden and Habitat.

Seven weeks after her arrival, the dolphin had her name selected through an employee contest.
Mirage president Scott Sibella selected the winning name and said Bella -- which means "beautiful" in Italian -- best suited the dolphin.

Other names entered in the running were Lucy, Sweet Pea and Amaya.

Bella is in the Mirage's birthing and research pool along with her mother, Huf n Puf, grandmother Dutchess and Dutchess’ son, Sgt. Pepper. Bella’s father, Lightning, is in another pool within the facility.

The animal care team will keep an eye on Bella for the first year of her life, monitoring her habits and development. The team has seen the young calf become more independent, venturing away from mom for swims on her own.

Youths attacked a pod of dolphins!

Authorities should throw the book at a group of youths who attacked a pod of dolphins in South Australia, Project Dolphin Safe president Aaron Machado says.

"We're calling for national parks to actually endorse and enforce the regulations they make," Mr Machado said today.

A fisherman told the Marina Sports Association this week that he saw a group of youths lure dolphins into the Whyalla Marina with fish about two weeks ago and attack them with rocks.
Marina Sports Association vice president Wayne Carn described the school holiday attacks as "disgusting".

"It's illegal to feed dolphins and they're such a lovely creature, it's hard to stop anyone," he said.
Mr Machado said authorities should enforce regulations to make an example of the youths involved in the Whyalla incident.

Japan: Dolphin delicacy may send you to the ER

Japanese diners who enjoy tucking into dolphin meat are putting their health at risk, as well as courting international condemnation.

A new study by two Japanese universities found that residents of Taiji, a whaling town on the Pacific coast, who frequently ate the meat of pilot whale - a member of the dolphin family - have mercury levels 10 times the national average.

The hair of three tested residents contained quantities of mercury higher than 50 parts per million [ppm], a level that can lead to neurological problems.

Researchers from the Health Sciences University of Hokkaido and Daiichi University's College of Pharmaceutical Studies tested hair samples from 30 men and 20 women from the town between last December and July this year.

The average mercury level among the men was 21.6 ppm and 11.9 ppm among women - both about 10 times the national average. Three men with dangerously high levels of mercury said they ate pilot whale meat more than once a month.

Tetsuya Endo, a member of the research team, said the residents faced no immediate threats to their health but suggested they cut back on their dolphin and whale meat consumption, according to the Kyodo news agency.
Mercury levels halved among people who stopped eating the meat for two months.

Last year a study of dolphin meat served in school lunches in the Taiji area revealed mercury levels 10 to 16 times higher than the health ministry's accepted level of 0.4 ppm.

The latest warnings come as the town, about 280 miles west of Tokyo, begins its annual dolphin cull.
Local fishermen are expected to slaughter around 2,000 of the estimated 20,000 dolphins that will be killed in Japanese coastal waters between now and April.

The hunters bang on metal poles to drive pods of dolphins into secluded coves, where they are speared and hacked to death. The few that survive are sold to aquariums in Japan, Europe and the US.

Despite international condemnation of the culls, the people of Taiji, where coastal whaling is said to stretch back 400 years, claim the local economy would collapse if coastal whaling and dolphin hunting were banned.

Japan: The slaughtering of dolphins

At Taiji, a quaint whaling town 700 kilometres south of Tokyo, waves lap against steep rocks of a popular national park.However, visitors are kept well away from the slaughter happening in a secluded lagoon nearby.Japanese fishermen, backed by the country's government, are slaughtering thousands of dolphins off the coast, while ignoring both international protests and concerns about contaminated dolphin meat being sold to the public.Between October and April, some 16 000 to more than 20 000 of the animals are killed in the annual hunt, in Taiji and other Japanese fishing towns, often cruelly stabbed with knives, hooks and lances.

'This is a scandal'The mass slaughter goes ahead with the backing of the government, but without the majority of the population being aware of it.Part of the marine mammals' flesh is sold in Japan, despite warnings of high-level mercury contamination, animal rights activists said."The dolphin meat is highly contaminated," dolphin activist Richard O'Barry said on Monday. He sharply criticised Japan's government for keeping both the controversial slaughter and the contamination secret from the Japanese population."This is a scandal," said O'Barry, a former trainer of dolphins for the US television series Flipper.

Fishermen disable the dolphin's sense of direction by hammering on metal rods held into the sea, thereby herding them into a lagoon secured by nets."It often happens than babies are separated from their mothers and that pregnant dolphins miscarry because they panic," said O'Barry, who regularly travels to Taiji.Every passerby walking on the road along the lagoon can see the mortal fear of the animals, he said."The cruelty happens long before the killing," he added.

Individual, particularly beautiful dolphins are selected in a lagoon with the aid of dolphin trainers and sold off at high profits to aquariums and dolphin shows around the world.The remaining dolphins are killed in a secluded bay nearby, O'Barry said. The booming dolphin-captivity industry was providing a major financial incentive to keep the brutal hunts going, O'Barry told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.The former dolphin trainer has been fighting to protect the marine mammals since 1970.One dolphin can fetch up to $200 000 (about R1-million), O'Barry said, adding that some of the survivors of this year's cull were destined for Germany.

He urged the Switzerland-based World Association of Zoos and Aquariums to monitor its members and bar them from participating in the trade of animals caught in the Taiji hunt. Without international demand, the hunt would lose its allure.Environmentalists accuse Japan of killing the dolphins and other small whales because they eat many fish. A part of the killed mammals is processed into pet food and fertiliser.Japan's government justifies the cull as part of the country's whaling tradition and food culture.

Activists, on the other hand, argue that only about 1 per cent of the Japanese population eats whale meat, and say only a very small minority of those would consume dolphin meat."Most Japanese have never heard of it," said O'Barry. He warned against condemning the Japanese public as a whole for condoning the cruelty, as only a few people profit from the dolphin business.But he criticised the country's media, which keep mum about the annual slaughter, despite studies that showed the mercury content in dolphin meat to be higher than in fish from Minamata.

In the western city of Minamata, thousands died in the 1950s as a result of mercury-contaminated wastewater from a chemical plant entering the bay.Like then, the Japanese government is now also covering up the issue, O'Barry said, calling Taiji was a new Minamata.After one lawmaker in the regional parliament of Taiji made the contamination public, dolphin meat was removed from school menus.But now it was sold in other parts of the country, claimed O'Barry who fights against the "secret dolphin genocide" as a member of Safe Japan Dolphins, a coalition of animal rights activist groups.

Yet he remains hopeful about being able to stop the killing soon. Activists secretly filmed a movie in the Taiji lagoons, which is to be presented in January 2009 at the Sundance Film Festival.O'Barry said he hopes the shocking movie, which shows the dolphin slaughter in great detail, will cause a similar reaction as Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth did for climate change.

White-beaked dolphins' population could decrease in Scottish waters

CLIMATE change could stop dolphins visiting Scottish waters, experts have warned.

Rising temperatures could cause a drop in cod, herring and squid numbers, which are among dolphins' favourite foods.

White-beaked dolphins in particular can often be seen off the coast of Aberdeenshire in the summer.

Ian Sim, of the Sea Water Foundation, said: "They used to be quite frequent but they seem to be fading out.

"Research is vital for their preservation. It would be devastating if they disappeared from our coast but there is a concern for their future."

Quick "Facts about Dolphins"