Do you remember the 2016 news story about the baby dolphin washed up on an Argentinian beach? Rather than help it, dozens of tourists at the Santa Teresita beach resort simply took selfies with it.
The saddest image was the final one: the dolphin’s corpse left discarded on the beach after it succumbed to heatstroke, fear and stress.
I read the story in the London Evening Standard, on the train. Opposite me sat a heavily-built, slightly threatening-looking man with a shaven head, thumbing through his copy of the same paper. In a voice much higher than expected for a man of his build, he exclaimed to no one in particular: “Poor little dolphin!”, then added more gruffly: “Fucking scumbags!”
I love that guy. I love the complete contradiction between his outward appearance and the horrified honesty of his emotions as he read about the torture and death of that poor little dolphin.
But dolphins don’t just die in other places.
Last year, the bodies of 17 dolphins washed up along the Sussex shoreline, on the south coast of England, where the World Cetacean Alliance is based. That’s only 10% of the estimated 170 dolphins that were killed in Sussex waters last year. All of these are believed to be victims of super-trawler bycatch.
Today, as I write this, huge fishing super-trawlers are, once again, operating off the Sussex coast.
Super-trawlers are massive factory ships that travel the world’s oceans, catching, processing, freezing, and storing hundreds of thousands of fish every single day whilst out at sea. These ships can measure up to 150m and tow kilometre-long nets the size of 450 tennis courts.
They plunder the oceans on such a massive scale that their presence risks impacting the entire marine ecosystem. Pulling fish from the ocean in such huge numbers can collapse fish stocks and devastate the ocean environment.
However, these vast, murderous nets mean that the target fish are not the only wildlife they catch. The ships pull in literally anything that is unfortunate enough to be caught in their path. This “bycatch” can be dolphins and porpoises, but also whales, sharks, seals, seabirds or any other fish species that are caught “by mistake”.
Bycatch is such an empty word. You might have heard it many times without even realising what it means. It’s about as innocuous a word as you could come up with to describe the killing of over 63 million marine animals, throughout the world’s oceans, every day – or more than 23 billion marine animals each year. Their bodies simply thrown back into the ocean because they weren’t the intended catch and therefore serve no purpose. That’s 23 billion sentient creatures killed and trashed without a thought. “Acceptable losses” from an industry that operates over the horizon line: out at sea and out of sight.
But once in a while, a dolphin washes up dead on a beach and perhaps makes even the toughest guy on a train exclaim: “Poor little dolphin!”
To find out more about dolphins dying in supertrawler bycatch and what you can do to help end it, join our Dolphins Aren’t Discard campaign here: https://worldcetaceanalliance.org/dolphins-arent-discard/
Harry Eckman is an international animal welfare specialist and CEO of the World Cetacean Alliance, the world’s largest marine conservation partnership.