Mauritanian beaches full of dead dolphins
afrol News, 1 July 2003 - Corpses of dolphins and turtles have recently been floating onto the southern beaches of
Mauritania. The recently discovered mass death of these protected species is
attributed to escalating bycatches by fishing vessels operating off
The recent discovery on the beaches of Mauritania of more than 200 dolphins and turtles, some of which had clearly
been killed by entanglement in fishing nets, "fuels the need for
urgent action to combat the world's growing bycatch problem," according
to the environmental group IUCN.
A scientific mission of IUCN's Mauritania office had found a total of 230 dead dolphins and at least one pilot whale, as
well as the threatened hawksbill and leatherback turtles on the southern
beaches of Mauritania - between Nouakchott, the capital, and the Senegalese city of Saint-Louis. Mission
participants had thus alerted the Mauritanian Institute of Oceanographic
Research and Fisheries (IMROP) which is now carrying out an
investigation into the mass mortality.
- Although the cause of death has not yet been confirmed, because of the mixture of species found and the fact
that some were entangled in sections of fishing nets, it is likely that these
animals were killed as bycatch. Unfortunately this is not the first
such incident, said Dr Jean-Christophe Viť, of IUCN's Species Programme.
According to Mr Viť, "fishing bycatch events are regularly reported from the west coast of Africa and are having
a disastrous effect on populations of marine species."
Worldwide, both marine and freshwater cetacean (dolphins, whales and porpoises) populations are affected by the
continued expansion of fishing effort including into previously unexploited
areas, the rise in shipping traffic, increasing development along
rivers, coasts and estuaries, and rising pollution.
The incident in Mauritania comes at a time when the issue of bycatch and its critical impact on marine life is
gaining increasing global attention, according to a statement by IUCN.
The recently-released Cetacean Action Plan produced by IUCN's Species Survival
Commission (SSC) states that of the barrage of threats facing the world's cetaceans, fishery bycatch
is becoming increasingly serious and widespread.
- There is an urgent need to develop alternative fishing gear and practices, and implement immediate mitigation measures
ranging from fishery closures to the mandatory use of acoustic deterrents
to keep animals away from nets, the group's statement reads.
In June, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) had adopted the Berlin Initiative which expands the
conservation activities of the Commission to address wider threats to cetaceans such as
bycatch, ship strikes, and habitat destruction.
Recently, the IUCN and its partners have announced the launch of a euro 30 million strategy to protect
West Africa's coasts and seas. Ten Ministers of Environment and Fisheries from Cape Verde, The
Gambia, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Mauritania and Senegal
thus approved the new 'Regional Strategy for Marine Protected Areas in West Africa'.
Approximately 60 percent of the 22 million people in the six countries of West Africa live on the coast and
depend mostly on fisheries. "As well as threatening biodiversity, overfishing threatens local
livelihoods," the group says. In particular the European Union, but also
Japan, have been repeatedly criticised for overfishing in West African waters.