Dolphins May Be Surprise Victims of Russia's War

More than 100 have been found dead on Black Sea shores, with some pointing to noise pollution
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted May 12, 2022 9:00 AM CDT
Dolphins May Be Surprise Victims of Russia's War
A dolphin is spotted near Dzharilgach Island in the Black Sea off Crimea in August 2013.   (Wikimedia Commons/?????????)

Dolphins are turning up dead in the Black Sea, which experts say could be a consequence of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Since war began in February, Turkey has recorded a rise in dolphin deaths across its Black Sea coast. More than 100 dolphins had been found dead before the end of March, per the Daily Sabah, which reports 24 were found near Istanbul, directly across from the Ukrainian coast, in a single day. Some drowned in fishing nets, others were stranded, per the Guardian. That lines up with what Bulgarian conservation group Green Balkans has found. In tracking the bycatch of cetaceans in turbot fishing over four years, it found numbers were lowest during spring and highest in summer.

But this spring, 50 cetaceans, including harbor porpoise dolphins, became entangled in about 45 miles of nets, which is close to the peak from summer 2019, per the Guardian. The Turkish Marine Research Foundation (Tudav) initially warned of "an extraordinary increase" in deaths, adding "it is not yet clear why they are concentrated in the region at this time of the year compared to previous years, and why incidental net catches have increased so much." However, Chair Dr. Bayram Öztürk now says "acoustic trauma" in the northern Black Sea, where Russian navy vessels are active, may be driving cetaceans—which rely on sound to navigate, communicate, and hunt—toward shores in Turkey and Bulgaria.

Dr. Pavel Gol'din of Ukraine's National Academy of Sciences agrees underwater noise could seriously disturb the animals and "might be the cause of mass migration of fish and cetacean stocks to the south." However, "we don't have proof on what low frequency sonar may cause in the Black Sea because we have never seen this many ships, and this much noise for such an extended time," says Öztürk. Tudav has advised "that a surveillance program to detect the effects of the war on the marine life should be started immediately" as "the security of marine life, environment, and nourishment in the Black Sea is under threat," per Hurriyet Daily News. (Russia is reportedly using dolphins in its war effort.)

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