Dolphins don’t smile

Dolphins don’t express emotions with their facial muscles. Their mouth is just shaped in a way that we humans misinterpret as a smile. Because they always seem to be smiling, visitors to marine parks and dolphinariums often assume that dolphins kept in captivity are having a great time performing tricks and flips, splashing and jumping around their tank. But captive dolphins aren’t smiling and most people don’t see the sad truth behind that smiley grin.

dolphin smiling imageCaptive dolphins have nothing to smile about. Here are 5 reasons why captive dolphins aren’t smiling:

Captive dolphins are abducted dolphins – Most captive dolphins nowadays are born and bred in captivity, but many are still taken out of the wild. Dolphins are highly intelligent social creatures that live in pods, forming close bonds with family members. For the sake of entertainment dolphins are being ripped from their natural ocean environments, snatched away from their family and pod mates, held in nets, carried in trucks, hoisted into planes and flown for hours.

Captivity supports dolphin slaughter – In order to sustain the captive population, massive hunts are conducted each year in various places around the world (e.g. The annual Taiji dolphin slaughter, highlighted in award-winning documentary “The Cove” in Japan). It is estimated that more than 23,000 dolphins are slaugthered every year. All dolphinariums indirectly support dolphin slaughter by keeping the demand for captive dolphins alive. Most people ignore that.

Dolphin captivity is ethically wrong – Dolphins in the wild are very curious animals and live in a world full of sounds, sights, movement, colour, varying landscapes and changing currents. In captivity, the dolphins imprisoned suffer from boredom, inadequate exercise, insufficient food variety, and bad food, especially when the facilities are poor. Some facilities even starve dolphins to train them to better perform.

Dolphin captivity sends the wrong message – One may argue that dolphins in captivity provide an educational experience; however, when kids go to dolphinariums, they get a man-made, counterfeit impression of dolphins. Ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau said: “No aquarium, no tank in a marine land, however spacious it may be, can begin to duplicate the conditions of the sea. And no dolphin who inhabits one of those aquariums or one of those marine lands can be considered normal.”

Dolphin captivity is cruel – Given the findings about dolphin intelligence, it is cruel to keep them in captivity. A study found that dolphins in captivity have a death rate of  5.6-7.4% compared with 3.9% in the wild.

Our knowledge about dolphins mainly come from studies of animals in captivity. But some scientists are fighting to keep all studies in the wild with animals that “decide” to work with them, an effort that was recently successful in showing how dolphin mothers teach their babies to hunt.

It seems the more we study dolphins, the more human-like we find them to be and the more trouble we have with the idea of keeping them in captivity and so it should be. I wish more people could get past the smile and see the sad truth behind dolphin captivity and how dolphins are suffering for the sake of entertainment and research.

Sources: World’s Saddest Dolphins, WDCS, Zach Affolster’s Blog, The Dolphin Way

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on Sharks (via C’EST LA VIE)

on Sharks I decided that I’ve had about enough people staring at me with disbelief when I tell them that not all sharks are dangerous to humans. Now I’m starting to get a little annoyed when people gasp in shock when I told them I’ve seen sharks when I dive. So what I really want to say is, sharks are not m … Read More


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Toxic tide mankind’s next great threat

Published on: June, 25 2011 – By Mike Rose, Health – NZ Herald News –  Toxic tide mankind’s next great threat .

Plastic pollution on beach imageFor most of us, trouble with plastic at sea tends to mean getting a plastic bag caught around a propeller or having one block a water intake.

However, a recent United Nations environmental programme report known as Yearbook for 2011 paints a gloomy picture on a rather larger scale. Describing plastics “lost” in the marine world as “the world’s new toxic time-bomb”, the report lists a litany of problems likely to flow from our discarded waste.

These include the reasonably well known: entangling wildlife, or being mistaken for food; and the one that has just been discovered: the fact that floating plastics accumulate and concentrate chemicals such as polychlorinated biphenols (PCBs) and the pesticide DDT (and that these then make their way in to the food chain, affecting birds, marine mammals and, of course, humans).

The problem appears to be that, while plastic doesn’t biodegrade, it does something far worse: it “photo-degrades”. This is a process by which the various plastics are broken down by sunlight into smaller and smaller pieces, all of which are still plastic polymers. These eventually become individual molecules of plastic: totally invisible and yet still too tough for anything to safely digest.

As with most forms of pollution, things have been getting worse over the last half a century or so as the world has become more industrialised and more countries that were once very poor become more affluent (think China, India, the economies of Southeast Asia).

As more and more of our world becomes made of plastic, more of it finds its way into the sea (according to the UN report, about 80 per cent of marine debris doesn’t come from the sea at all but from land).

Major contributors are tourism-related litter at the coast (including litter left by beach goers such as food and beverage packaging, cigarettes and plastic beach toys); and sewage-related debris (garbage such as street litter, condoms and syringes discharged directly into the sea or rivers during heavy rainfall or from waste water outlets).

The other 20 per cent consists mainly of fishing-related debris (including fishing lines and nets, fishing pots and strapping bands from bait boxes that are lost accidentally by commercial fishing boats or are deliberately dumped into the ocean); and wastes from ships and boats (including garbage accidentally or deliberately dumped overboard).

In many places, all this harmful waste remains scattered and diverse. However, in our part of the world, the Pacific, the various currents conspire to attract vast amounts of this discarded plastic debris in an area known as the central Pacific gyre. Also commonly referred to as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch or the Pacific Trash Vortex, it lies in the central North Pacific Ocean, roughly between 135°-155°W and 35°-42°N.

Estimates of its size vary but, according to Curtis Ebbesmeyer, one of the world’s leading flotsam experts, it is the size of a continent.

It is here that much of our knowledge on the dangers of discarded plastics originates as, as the size of the problem has become apparent, scientists have flocked to the area to study its effects. Unfortunately, they appear to be far worse than anyone first imagined. One of those who frequently ventures into the area aboard the oceanographic research vessel Alguita is Captain Charles Moore. He is one of those warning about what he calls “the darker side” of our plastic pollution.

“As these fragments float around, they accumulate the various non water- soluble poisons we manufacture,” he says. “It turns out that these plastic polymers are sponges for DDT, PCBs and nonylphenols – oily toxics that don’t dissolve in seawater. They can accumulate at up to one million times the level of these poisons floating in the water.

“These are not like heavy metal poisons, which affect the animal that ingests them directly. Rather, they are what might be called ‘second generation’ toxic waste.”

Moore says this is because animals, including we humans, have evolved receptors for elaborate organic molecules called hormones. These regulate brain activity and reproduction.

“Hormone receptors cannot distinguish these toxics from the natural estrogenic hormone, estradiol and, when the pollutants dock at these receptors instead of the natural hormone, they have been shown to have a number of negative effects in everything from birds and fish to humans.”

Moore, who believes the issue of hormone disruption is becoming one of the biggest environmental issues of the 21st century, points out that hormone disruption has been implicated in lower sperm counts and higher ratios of females to males in both humans and animals.

“Unchecked, this trend is a dead end for any species.”

Perhaps the most disturbing issue is that problem appears virtually, if not actually, unfixable.

Moore says it would be easier to vacuum every square inch of the entire United States than to clean up the “Garbage Patch”.

“The plastic patch is larger than the US and the fragments are mixed below the surface to a depth of at least 30 metres.”

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Marine turtle movements tracked

Published on: June, 23 2011 – Science DailyMarine turtle movements tracked.

Loggerhead sea turtle satellite tracking - sea tag copyright Tony Tucker imageA University of Exeter team has monitored the movements of an entire sub-population of marine turtle for the first time. The study confirms that through satellite tracking we can closely observe the day-to-day lives of marine turtles, accurately predicting their migrations and helping direct conservation efforts.

Writing in the journal Diversity and Distributions, lead author and University of Exeter PhD student Dr Lucy Hawkes (now at Bangor University) describes the migrations of a population of loggerhead turtles in the US Atlantic Ocean over a decade (1998-2008). The findings reveal that, despite travelling thousands of miles every year, they rarely leave the waters of the USA or the continental shelf. This discovery could help the US direct conservation efforts where it is needed most.

Monitoring focused on adult females that nest along the coast from North Carolina to Georgia each summer and showed that they forage in shallow warm waters off most of the United States eastern seaboard. The study also revealed that the turtles which travel as far north to forage as New Jersey have to head south to avoid the cold winter there.

Dr Lucy Hawkes said: “This is the first time, to our knowledge, that anyone has been able to say precisely where and when you would find an entire sub-population of marine turtles. This is incredibly useful for conservation as it tells us exactly where to put our efforts. We knew that satellite tracking was a valuable tool, but this study highlights how powerful it is — without it we would still be guessing where these beautiful but vulnerable creatures live.”

Dr Brendan Godley who led the University of Exeter team has been using satellite tracking to monitor sea turtles since 1997. He said: “By attaching small satellite tracking devices to turtles’ shells, we can accurately monitor their whereabouts. Working with biologists and conservation groups around the world we are starting to build a much clearer picture of the lives of marine turtles, including their migrations, breeding and feeding habits. These findings form a valuable resource for conservation groups, who are concerned with protecting turtles from threats posed by fishing, pollution and climate change.”

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