Scientists believe that fighting cripples their capability to navigate, talk to one another, and find food.
Along with the thousands of women, men, and children who have lost their lives since Russia invaded Ukraine, there have been more than hundreds of casualties in the Black Sea, especially among the dolphins and porpoises.
Scientists who conduct studies in the region reported an abnormal increase in stranding and bycatch — when animals are caught unintentionally by fishermen — of dolphins, porpoises, and whales, in the spring and summer of 2022, per a recent report published by the Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans of the Black Sea (ACCOBAMS), the Mediterranean Sea, and the Contiguous Atlantic Area.
Russia’s war against Ukraine began in February this year, putting the Black Sea basin under a significant threat.
Military activities in the coastal and marine areas may affect the aquatic biota in the region, including the cetaceans, the report mentioned.
Over 700 deaths in harbour porpoises and dolphins are recorded on the coasts of nations that border the sea, including Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine, and Turkey, per Erich Hoyt, a research fellow who is associated with the Whale and Dolphin Conservation, who reportedly consulted with researchers associated with ACCOBAMS.
Researchers are striving to find the cause behind the deaths observed, but the ongoing war between Ukraine and Russia — and the possible threat posed by floating mines — make boat surveys and data collection a challenge.
There have been reports of dolphins washing ashore with some physical injuries, such as burns that could be a direct consequence of being caught in the crossfire.
Ivan Rusev, a research director with Tuzla Estuaries National Nature Park of Ukraine, mentioned earlier this year that dolphins were reportedly washing ashore. Many had burn marks from mines and bombs, while others could not navigate, or some looked like they were starving for days.
However, the increase in stranding and dolphins caught in a bycatch may directly result from the loud noises associated with the ongoing war.
Porpoises and dolphins rely on particular sounds to navigate, find their food, and communicate with one another, Hoyt informed Insider.
Noise from ship traffic can have an impact, but the sounds of explosions at the surface or underwater may disorient, kill, or wound these porpoises and dolphins within a few miles or result in an increased number of stranding or bycatch.
Dolphins, porpoises, and whales possess an acute sense of hearing and deploy echolocation to map their environment.
They emit a short and pulsing “click” like a finger-snapping sound that travels through the water till they encounter an object and bounce back to the dolphin.
But loud noises could disrupt the dolphin’s ability to interpret the returning sound to identify their food and successfully understand the environment.
Dolphins use sound, similar to a whistle, to communicate with one another, and have even been documented using unique verbal labels to address each other — in a word: names.
Sounds travel further and about four and half times faster via water than air, making the effect of explosions in the sea more damaging.
Though scientists are trying to confirm the reasons for the increase in deaths, Hoyt mentioned that the noise disruptions might disorient the dolphins, resulting in them being stranded on shore or caught in fishermen’s nets.
Another factor might be that the fighting is gradually driving the mammals far away from the familiar waters of Ukraine and bringing them to unfamiliar locations in search of food, where they are more likely to end up in a fishing net or be stranded onshore.
The situation worsens because specialists have identified some coastal areas near Ukraine as essential for some dolphins and porpoises.
Hoyt co-chairs the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN’s) Marine Mammal Protected Areas Task Force. The organization identifies the areas that are essential for conserving marine mammals.
Several locations around Ukraine — including some that have been subject to fighting — have earlier been designated as critical habitats, including the areas around the Crimean peninsula, the Sea of Azov, and the Kerch Strait.
The areas were reportedly identified as essential habitats for three species that the IUCN classifies as endangered or threatened: the Black Sea common dolphin, harbour porpoise, and bottlenose dolphin.
References: Business Insider India, Beamstart
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