New report reveals shocking truth

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17 December 2008

An animal welfare problem of major proportions has been uncovered in a new report by WDCS, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.

The report, Shrouded by the sea, reveals the shocking truth behind the entanglement of whales, dolphins and porpoises in fishing nets, estimated to kill more than 300,000 of these animals worldwide each year.

The report outlines in harrowing detail how whales and dolphins slowly meet their death in fishing nets, many suffering extreme injuries in what can be a long, drawn out underwater struggle. The suffering of these animals in commercial fish production is contrasted with the welfare standards widely adopted for animals during commercial meat production. Put simply: this degree of suffering would not be tolerated if it occurred on land.

Most dolphins trapped underwater by fishing gear die of asphyxiation. Whales and dolphins can hold their breath for long periods of time. Hector’s dolphins can remain underwater for more than two minutes between breaths, and sperm whales can dive for over an hour between surfacing. The damage seen on bycaught animals shows that many of them struggle desperately to escape from their entrapment, sustaining horrific injuries in the process.

WDCS’s NZ based Senior Biologist Philippa Brakes, who is a specialist in whale and dolphin welfare, said that it was important for people to understand the level of cruelty inherent in fisheries which regularly catch dolphins.

“This cruelty aspect has not been properly recognised before and this new research serves to highlight the extent of suffering involved. It is of particular concern to us that in the case of Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins we have the double whammy of endangered dolphins being killed under extremely cruel circumstances.”

The severe injuries regularly seen in bycaught whales and dolphins are evidence of the suffering victims go through. Rope and netting often cause cuts and abrasions to the skin, tightening as the animal struggles and cutting deeper into the flesh. In extreme cases, fins and tail flukes can be totally or partially amputated by the tightening nets. Bodies of bycaught dolphins are commonly recorded as having broken teeth, beaks or jaws and extreme internal injuries.

Large whales that become entangled in fishing gear have been found with severe lacerations deep into their blubber and even into their bones. As these animals are powerful enough to swim away and pull the gear with them, the rope continues to tighten and cut into their body over time, often resulting in a slow and painful death.

The accidental capture and death of whales, dolphins and porpoises in fishing gear is a global problem.

To download a copy of the summary report click here. For a copy of the full report visit www.wdcs.org.uk.
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