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According to reports from France, huge numbers of dolphins have been washing up dead on French beaches once again.

Since the start of 2019, up to 600 dead dolphins have drifted onto beaches along France's Atlantic coast due, it seems, to incidental capture in in fishing trawls and static fishing nets offshore (also known as bycatch).

The number is higher than any previous year at the same period but, alarmingly, is likely to be the tip of the iceberg, with many more dying but undiscovered.

Over 90% of those washed ashore show the typical and terrible signs of mutilation, amputation and broken jaws caused by bycatch.

Entanglement in fishing nets and gear, is the biggest threat facing dolphins, porpoises and whales. Hundreds of thousands of individuals die a slow and painful death every year. Whales and dolphins can't breathe underwater. They panic and can endure terrible wounds and broken bones as they try to escape. When they can’t struggle any more, they close their blowhole and suffocate. Others carry gear with them for months to years as they slowly die from infections and starvation.

Although numbers of common dolphins stranded in the southwest of England this winter has not been out of the ordinary, there have been bycatch cases alongside other causes of death. That does not mean that there is not a problem in UK waters however, strandings data from the southwest show us that bycatch of common dolphins and porpoises especially has been a particular concern for decades.

WDC is working with governments to ensure laws are toughened up to stop dolphins, porpoises and whales dying in fishing nets and gear, campaigning for strong national UK laws to stop deaths in fishing gear in UK waters after Brexit, and teaming up with scientists and fishermen to find safer fishing methods.

Common dolphin

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About George Berry

George is a member of WDC's Communications team and website coordinator.

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