From: Hrvoje Hranjski, Associated Press
Published June 10, 2005 12:00 AM

Group Sounds Alarm Over Trapped Dolphins

MANILA, Philippines — From Southeast Asia to the Black Sea, fishing nets have become deathtraps for thousands of whales, dolphins and porpoises -- species whose survival will be threatened unless fishing methods change, the World Wildlife Fund said Thursday.


The U.S.-based environmental group released a marine scientists' report that listed species threatened by accidental catch, and recommended low-cost steps to reduce their entanglement in fishing gear.


The report identified dolphins in the Philippines, India and Thailand as urgent priorities.


Researchers estimate that fishing gear kills about 300,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises a year in the world's oceans.


Threatened populations include Irrawaddy dolphins in Malampyaya Sound off the Philippines' Palawan island, about 220 miles south of Manila. The WWF report said only 77 remain.


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Dolphins also face the threat of traders who sell them to aquariums, especially in Asia, the report said.


Other threatened populations include Spinner and Fraser's dolphins in the Philippines' Sulu Sea. The WWF report said up to 3,000 Spinner dolphins may be caught each year in gillnets, which stretch from the sea floor to the surface and are hard for dolphins to see or detect with their sonar.


If the mammals are trapped underwater in nets and can't get to the surface to breathe, they drown.


Dolphins are also under threat in Indonesia, Myanmar, India's Chilka Lake and Thailand's Songkhla Lake, the WWF said.


Fishing gear kills thousands of porpoises each year in the Black Sea, the report said. Atlantic humpback dolphins face the same fate off the coasts of Ghana and Togo in Africa, as do Franciscana dolphins in Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil, it said.


Indo-Pacific humpback and bottlenose dolphins often die in nets off the south coast of Zanzibar, the report added.


Most of the animals are threatened by the widespread use of one type of fishing gear -- gillnets, the WWF report said.


U.S. fisheries in 1993-2003 introduced changes that reduced by a third the number of dolphins accidentally killed by fishing, or bycatch, the WWF said.


But few other countries have followed that example, "and in much of the rest of the world, progress on bycatch mitigation has been slow to nonexistent," the group said.


"These accidental deaths can be significantly reduced, often with very simple, low-cost solutions," said Karen Baragona of WWF's species conservation program. "Slight modifications in fishing gear can mean the difference between life and death for dolphins."


The report will be submitted next week to the International Whaling Commission meeting in South Korea, the WWF said.


Source: Associated Press


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