Protecting Wildlife in Gibraltar - ***DISTURBING IMAGES***
Dolphin Mutilations in Gibraltar
This common dolphin baby (delphinus delphis) on the right top picture was found in Catalan Bay, on Gibraltar's eastern side. It was clubbed to death after it was caught in a fishing net. A picture of this dolphin was featured in the Daily Telegraph, which draw international attention to local dolphin mutilations (for further information see: Dolphins - Research & Protection).
The striped dolphin (stenela coeruleoalba) was found in December 2006. As you can see below, someone has cut the dolphin's eye out and graffiti into the skin. We cannot say whether this male was still alive, when he received these injuries. Autopsy notes at the time would indicate that it was possibly alive at the time the eye was removed.
Cases such as the ones above are not as isolated as you would imagine, we witness them more often than we would like. Both cases cannot be called the stranding of an animal but must be described as brutality inflicted by humans on a creature that has been known to help man. The question it begs is "Why?".
Caught Up In Nets
The Strait of Gibraltar sees the passage of many kinds of species - the loggerhead sea turtle (caretta caretta) is one of them. The passage of any species can be fraught with all kinds of dangers, among them are fishing nets, which did not only cause the death of many a dolphin but also of this specific turtle. The fishermen who lay the nets do not intend to catch turtles, but of course this does not stop this protected species to get caught in their nets. Usually they are referred to as 'by-catch' and are tossed back into the sea - no matter if dead, severely injured or - in rare cases - still alive and healthy.
When protected animals - as depicted below - are entangled and unable to save themselves, 'by-catch' is no longer a phrase one wants to hear. The turtle is an air-breathing amphibian with an ability to stay under water for a long time; nevertheless it does need to surface and breathe.
These photographs below show a drowned turtle that tried to cling to life dragging what was either cast of net or net that had been cut away. Whichever it was: It was avoidable, but the net owner will never be known. We therefore think that identification on any net is needed - be it a form of bar coding or a numerical code on floats and net. If this were the case, fishermen would not be so quick in casting unwanted fishing gear into the sea, where they cause death on the surface - as in this case - or below the sea on the seabed, catching fish and other life that will never be retrieved.
Visualise for a moment that the turtle you see here is a diver caught up as it is. We would move heaven and earth to find out where the net came from. We would ensure that the owners could be identified, and the responsible people would then not be so quick to cast them off or cut them away.
This long-finned pilot whale (Globicephala melas) stranded at Camp Bay in December 2006. We came to the scene minutes before the death of this fully grown male. This species is not uncommon in the Strait area of Gibraltar. The size of this mammal did not permit a full autopsy due to the lack of facilities on our part. All that we could carry out was a visual inspection to see if there were any signs that would point to the reasons for its demise. We did not come to any conclusions.
The problem of both the reintroduction of stranded mammals into the water and the removal of dead mammals from the shore is the lack of respective facilities and the willingness of those that have them. Once a mammal is deceased, the top layer of dermis (skin) on whales and dolphins breaks down very fast. It leaves them looking grotesque and upsets the public at large. Sadly this is how life in the sea quite often ends at the water's edge.