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Risso's dolphins are captured in Taiji hunt. Image: LIA and Dolphin Project

Heartbreak and practical action – the horror of the Taiji dolphin hunts and one Japanese activist’s determination

Back in November, I shared my heartache at the drama unfolding in the waters off...
Common Dolphin

Goodbye Bycatch – what have we achieved and what’s next?

Thank you to everyone who's got involved with our campaign to stop dolphins, porpoises and...
Haul of sea bass on French pair trawlers, Le Baron and Magellan, fishing in the English channel. Greenpeace is currently in the English channel protesting against pelagic pair trawling due to the high numbers of dolphin deaths associated with it.

Seaspiracy

Ali and Lucy Tabrizi's Netflix film Seaspiracy is compelling viewing for anyone who cares for...
Porpoise, Conwy Wales. WDC

Why do porpoises and dolphins find it so difficult to avoid fishing nets?

When a dolphin or porpoise is caught or entangled in fishing gear it's known as...
WDC NA

Reflection – what this remarkable whale teaches us about humpbacks and their fascinating lives

Reflection, like all humpback whales, was born with a unique black and white pattern on...

Meet the brainiacs of the underwater world – deep thinkers with intricate emotional lives

Whales and dolphins have big brains, and large brained beings have a few things in...

Growing up with the amazing Adelaide Port River dolphins

Squeak, one of the Port River dolphins If you are able to make a donation,...

Real lives lost – the true dolphin, porpoise and whale stories behind the bycatch statistics

Every dolphin, porpoise and whale who dies in fishing gear was an individual with their...
All policy news
  • All policy news
  • Create healthy seas
  • End captivity
  • Prevent deaths in nets
  • Stop whaling
Sperm whale © Douglas Hoffman

Featured policy news item

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Nunc magna elit, gravida at lectus vitae,...
sea_world_orlando_rob_lott

Holiday giant Thomas Cook stops selling tickets to Seaworld and Loro Parque

Holiday giant Thomas Cook stops selling tickets to Seaworld and Loro Parque Following a three...

Endangered Southern Resident orca loses newborn calf

In heartbreaking news from the Pacific Northwest, the Center for Whale Research has reported that...
srkw_shoup_2003_text

U.S. Defense Bill weakens protections for whales

24 July 2018, Plymouth, MA: The FY2019 National Defense Authorization Act conference report was released...

Doubts remain after Icelandic Marine Institute claims slaughtered whale was a hybrid not a blue

Experts remain sceptical of initial test results issued by the Icelandic Marine Institute, which indicate...
f0k5103-2

Did Icelandic whalers really kill a blue whale?

*Warning - this blog contains an image that you may find upsetting* They say a...
iron_gate_dam_klamath

One step closer to more salmon for endangered Southern Resident orcas

On June 28, 2018, the Klamath River Renewal Corporation (KRRC) filed “The Definite Plan” for...
monodon_monoceros-wdc3

Narwhals and Bowhead whales threatened by new Arctic shipping routes

A NASA-funded study has warned that marine creatures like whales and dolphins will be exposed...
japanese_whaling_2005_-_minke_whales_credit_jeremy_sutton-hibbert_for_use_until_28.2.17_1

Japan set to resume commercial whaling

Reports from Japan suggest that the government they will formally propose plans to resume commercial...
hvalfjordur_035

Iceland flouts international ban to slaughter first protected fin whale of new hunting season

Icelandic whaling company Hvalur hf has slaughtered an endangered fin whale today in defiance of...
l92_dave_ellifrit_cwr

Southern Resident orca L92 missing as community returns to the Salish Sea

We are very sad to share news announced today by the Center for Whale Research...
whale_alert_flag_san_juan_county

New actions in the Northwest to help Southern Resident orcas and salmon

As the Washington State Task Force starts to examine threats to the endangered Southern Resident...
All articles
  • All articles
  • About whales & dolphins
  • Create healthy seas
  • End captivity
  • Prevent deaths in nets
  • Scottish Dolphin Centre
  • Stop whaling
Risso's dolphins are captured in Taiji hunt. Image: LIA and Dolphin Project

Heartbreak and practical action – the horror of the Taiji dolphin hunts and one Japanese activist’s determination

Back in November, I shared my heartache at the drama unfolding in the waters off...
Common Dolphin

Goodbye Bycatch – what have we achieved and what’s next?

Thank you to everyone who's got involved with our campaign to stop dolphins, porpoises and...
Haul of sea bass on French pair trawlers, Le Baron and Magellan, fishing in the English channel. Greenpeace is currently in the English channel protesting against pelagic pair trawling due to the high numbers of dolphin deaths associated with it.

Seaspiracy

Ali and Lucy Tabrizi's Netflix film Seaspiracy is compelling viewing for anyone who cares for...
Porpoise, Conwy Wales. WDC

Why do porpoises and dolphins find it so difficult to avoid fishing nets?

When a dolphin or porpoise is caught or entangled in fishing gear it's known as...
WDC NA

Reflection – what this remarkable whale teaches us about humpbacks and their fascinating lives

Reflection, like all humpback whales, was born with a unique black and white pattern on...

Meet the brainiacs of the underwater world – deep thinkers with intricate emotional lives

Whales and dolphins have big brains, and large brained beings have a few things in...

Growing up with the amazing Adelaide Port River dolphins

Squeak, one of the Port River dolphins If you are able to make a donation,...

Real lives lost – the true dolphin, porpoise and whale stories behind the bycatch statistics

Every dolphin, porpoise and whale who dies in fishing gear was an individual with their...
All policy news
  • All policy news
  • Create healthy seas
  • End captivity
  • Prevent deaths in nets
  • Stop whaling
Sperm whale © Douglas Hoffman

Featured policy news item

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Nunc magna elit, gravida at lectus vitae,...
sea_world_orlando_rob_lott

Holiday giant Thomas Cook stops selling tickets to Seaworld and Loro Parque

Holiday giant Thomas Cook stops selling tickets to Seaworld and Loro Parque Following a three...

Endangered Southern Resident orca loses newborn calf

In heartbreaking news from the Pacific Northwest, the Center for Whale Research has reported that...
srkw_shoup_2003_text

U.S. Defense Bill weakens protections for whales

24 July 2018, Plymouth, MA: The FY2019 National Defense Authorization Act conference report was released...

Doubts remain after Icelandic Marine Institute claims slaughtered whale was a hybrid not a blue

Experts remain sceptical of initial test results issued by the Icelandic Marine Institute, which indicate...
f0k5103-2

Did Icelandic whalers really kill a blue whale?

*Warning - this blog contains an image that you may find upsetting* They say a...
iron_gate_dam_klamath

One step closer to more salmon for endangered Southern Resident orcas

On June 28, 2018, the Klamath River Renewal Corporation (KRRC) filed “The Definite Plan” for...
monodon_monoceros-wdc3

Narwhals and Bowhead whales threatened by new Arctic shipping routes

A NASA-funded study has warned that marine creatures like whales and dolphins will be exposed...
japanese_whaling_2005_-_minke_whales_credit_jeremy_sutton-hibbert_for_use_until_28.2.17_1

Japan set to resume commercial whaling

Reports from Japan suggest that the government they will formally propose plans to resume commercial...
hvalfjordur_035

Iceland flouts international ban to slaughter first protected fin whale of new hunting season

Icelandic whaling company Hvalur hf has slaughtered an endangered fin whale today in defiance of...
l92_dave_ellifrit_cwr

Southern Resident orca L92 missing as community returns to the Salish Sea

We are very sad to share news announced today by the Center for Whale Research...
whale_alert_flag_san_juan_county

New actions in the Northwest to help Southern Resident orcas and salmon

As the Washington State Task Force starts to examine threats to the endangered Southern Resident...

Urgent step change needed to stop dolphins suffering in fishing nets

Does sustainably caught fish mean no harm has come to dolphins? The quick answer to that question is ‘no’. If you buy fish with a ‘sustainably caught’ or ‘dolphin safe’ eco-label, unless caught with a pole and line, you have no way of knowing whether dolphins, porpoises or whales suffered and died in the process of catching it.

When dolphins, porpoises and whales are accidentally caught in fishing nets and gear (known as ‘bycatch’), they can endure a slow and traumatic death. When fish from certain fisheries is labelled as ‘sustainable’ this suffering is not taken into account. There are huge welfare concerns associated with marine mammals getting caught in fishing gear and for that reason, there should be zero tolerance on whale and dolphin bycatch. We cannot say that any number of dolphins, porpoises or whales dying this way is acceptable. 

I’ve been examining this issue with my WDC colleague, Philippa Brakes, in a review which is published in Frontiers in Veterinary Science.

Yangtze River dolphins (baiji) have been declared ‘functionally extinct’. Mexican vaquitas, North Atlantic right whales, New Zealand Māui dolphins and Baltic and Iberian porpoises, are all endangered and headed for extinction, either wholly or largely because of fishing. They are the unwanted waste of the fishing industry. 

We imagine that these air-breathing mammals drown, but worse, the post-mortem evidence suggests that when trapped in a net, unable to get to the surface to breathe, they asphyxiate, voluntarily holding their breath until they suffocate.

These species on the brink are the poster children of the dolphin bycatch issue. It’s only a matter of time before inadequately managed fishing pushes another species to the same fate as the baiji, but it’s blinkered to see this as just a numbers game. Even if fishing wasn’t pushing entire species to extinction, the situation would still be unacceptable because of the large-scale suffering involved. The sustainability of some fisheries is only part of the story.

There are many, many thousands of bycaught dolphins who go unnoticed and unreported, despite the injuries suffered, the broken bones and fins, broken teeth, abrasions, cuts, bruising, and internal injuries, and the potential for panic associated with forced submersion. A dead mother with a dependant calf will likely mean the baby, if not also bycaught, will starve to death. A large whale trapped in fishing rope could die slowly, a prolonged death that can last weeks or months, due to reduced mobility and ability to feed, the line slowly severing her flesh and limbs.

Whales and dolphins are intelligent, self-aware and social and often live in family groups. Bycatch can have wide-reaching impacts across these social units and suffering cannot plausibly be reduced without preventing bycatch.

Commercial fishing is the last human activity targeting wildlife on a grand scale where death includes accidental killing of other species on such a regular basis. It is hard to envision a similar situation on land where the regular and inevitable incidental capture of large mammals would be tolerated for the commercial killing of other species. Fishing is unlike any other commercial activity when it comes to the suffering of large mammals but because it is under the sea, somehow it is easier to ignore and delay action.

How have we failed marine wildlife so badly that we continue to fish without adequate measures to protect dolphins, whales and porpoises?  We need a step change in our fisheries.  And it has to start with transparency in the fleet.

Governments, ‘eco-labels’ and the fishing industry have been complacent about bycatch for too long. We are close to wiping out one population after another because laws and consumer labelling are inadequate. But just as importantly, hundreds of thousands of dolphins from non-endangered populations are also dying horrible, painful deaths so that we can have fish on our plates. Laws and government regulations focus on maintaining populations, rather than considering the welfare of individuals, but clearly we are even failing at that. No fisherman wants to catch a dolphin and when we consider the welfare impacts, there is no doubt that we all need to do more, much more, to safeguard individuals. This can only happen when there is a level playing field for fishers, with much stricter regulation.

The only real way to tackle this worldwide problem is for robust and transparent, independent management systems to be installed on fishing vessels. We need to better document bycatch by monitoring it across all fleets and most importantly, we need to work toward eliminating dolphin, porpoise and whale bycatch altogether. 

Play your part in this important work by making a donation.