The dolphins' bodies were horribly mutilated, the fins cut off. But what shocked French marine researchers wasn't just the brutality of the deaths of these highly intelligent mammals, but the numbers involved—a record 1,100 have landed on France's Atlantic coast beaches since January. The mass deaths, widely blamed on industrial fishing, have alarmed animal welfare groups and prompted France's ecology minister to launch a national plan to protect them, the AP reports. "There's never been a number this high," says Willy Daubin, a member of La Rochelle University's National Center for Scientific Research. "Already in three months, we have beaten last year's record, which was up from 2017 and even that was the highest in 40 years."
Though Daubin says 90% of the fatalities resulted from the dolphins being accidentally captured in industrial fishing nets, the reason behind the spike this year is a mystery. "What fishing machinery or equipment is behind all these deaths?" he asks. Autopsies carried out on the dolphins this year by La Rochelle University's National Center for Scientific Research show extreme levels of mutilation. Activists say it's common for fishermen to cut body parts off the suffocated dolphins after they are pulled up on the nets, to save the nets. Ecology minister Francois de Rugy has come up with some plans, including stepping up the use of acoustic repellent devices on trawlers, but animal rights group Sea Shepherd says the devices are "useless" because trawlers don't activate them, fearing they will scare off fish as well as dolphins.
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