Dolphin and Whale News StoriesExcerpts of Key Dolphin and Whale News Stories in Major Media
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[Humpbacks whales] deliberately interfere with attacking killer whales to help others in distress. They don’t just defend their own babies or close relatives. They intervene on behalf of other species - a gray whale calf with its mother, a seal hauled out on an ice floe, even an ocean sunfish. Humpbacks act to improve the welfare of others; the classic definition of altruism. Robert Pitman, a marine ecologist ... describes a pivotal encounter he witnessed in Antarctica in 2009. A group of killer whales washed a Weddell seal they were attacking off an ice floe. A pair of humpbacks ... inserted themselves into the action. One of the huge humpbacks rolled over on its back and the 180-kilogram seal was swept up onto its chest between the whale’s massive flippers. And when the seal started slipping off, the humpback, according to Pitman, “gave the seal a gentle nudge with its flipper, back to the middle of its chest. Moments later, the seal scrambled off and swam to the safety of a nearby ice floe.” Pitman started asking people to send him similar accounts. Soon he was poring through observations of 115 encounters between humpbacks and killer whales, recorded over 62 years. So are humpbacks compassionate? When I pose the ... question to Pitman he [responds], “When a human protects an imperiled individual of another species, we call it compassion. If a humpback whale does so, we call it instinct. But sometimes the distinction isn’t all that clear.”
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Wild dolphins are struggling with high levels of mercury and industrial pollution in the oceans off the coasts of Florida and South Carolina. The pollution is putting their immune system on constant alert, which makes it less able to fight off bacteria, fungus, viruses and parasites in the water, according to a study in the journal PLOS ONE. The industrial pollution was strongest in the oceans near Charleston, South Carolina in the US. Organic compounds released into the water accumulate in microorganisms – that are eaten by fish, which are in turn eaten by dolphins. The toxins become more concentrated in each step of the food chain. Large amounts of mercury were found in dolphins that live in the Indian River Lagoon. Previous research has shown that the Indian River Lagoon dolphins developed a fungal skin disease because of their suppressed immune systems and new viruses. Some of these are also potentially infectious to humans. By comparison, the dolphins kept in the Georgia Aquarium had fewer diseases and their immune systems were under a lot less stress. This is because the environment at the aquarium is more tightly controlled for water quality. Keeping dolphins in captivity comes with its own impact on the overall health of the mammals. Dolphins are highly intelligent and have complex social structures that can't be maintained in small tanks. As a result, dolphins in captivity live shorter lives than those in the wild.
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Two dolphins have been recorded having a conversation for the first time after scientists developed an underwater microphone which could distinguish the animals' different "voices". Researchers have known for decades that the mammals had an advanced form of communication. But scientists have now shown that dolphins alter the volume and frequency of pulsed clicks to form individual "words" which they string together into sentences in much the same way that humans speak. Researchers at the Karadag Nature Reserve, in Feodosia, Ukraine, recorded two Black Sea bottlenose dolphins, called Yasha and Yana, talking to each other in a pool. Each dolphin would listen to a sentence of pulses without interruption, before replying. Lead researcher Dr Vyacheslav Ryabov, said: “Essentially, this exchange resembles a conversation between two people. “Each pulse represents a phoneme or a word of the dolphin's spoken language. “The analysis of numerous pulses registered in our experiments showed that the dolphins took turns in producing [sentences] and did not interrupt each other, which gives reason to believe that each of the dolphins listened to the other's pulses before producing its own. “This language exhibits all the design features present in the human spoken language, this indicates a high level of intelligence and consciousness in dolphins, and their language can be ostensibly considered a highly developed spoken language, akin to the human language.”
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A federal appeals court ruled Friday that the U.S. Navy was wrongly allowed to use sonar that could harm whales and other marine life. The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court decision upholding approval granted in 2012 for the Navy to use low-frequency sonar for training, testing and routine operations. The five-year approval covered peacetime operations in the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans and the Mediterranean Sea. Sonar, used to detect submarines, can injure whales, seals, dolphins and walruses and disrupt their feeding and mating. The 2012 rules adopted by the National Marine Fisheries Service permitted Navy sonar use to affect about 30 whales and two dozen pinnipeds, marine mammals with front and rear flippers such as seals and sea lions, each year. The Navy was required to shut down or delay sonar use if a marine mammal was detected near the ship. Loud sonar pulses also were banned near coastlines and in certain protected waters. Environmental groups, led by the Natural Resources Defense Council, filed a lawsuit in San Francisco in 2012, arguing that the approval violated the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The appellate court ruled 3-0 that the approval rules failed to meet a section of the protection act requiring peacetime oceanic programs to have "the least practicable adverse impact on marine mammals." The panel concluded that the fisheries service "did not give adequate protection to ... the world's oceans."
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One of the stories that inspired bestselling author Susan Casey’s new book on the intricate world of dolphins, Voices in the Ocean, is almost too beautiful to be believed. A biologist named Maddalena Bearzi was studying a group of dolphins off the coast of Los Angeles when she noticed something strange. The “pod” (group of dolphins) had just landed upon a herd of sardines. They were about to start feeding when one, unexpectedly, darted off. The rest followed, swimming full speed out to sea. When she reached them, three miles offshore, the pod had a formed a circle - in the middle of it, a girl’s floating body. Very near death, the girl had a plastic bag with her identification and a suicide note wrapped around her neck. With the dolphins' help, she was saved. The first dolphins lived on land. It took them 25 million years to adapt to being in the water. Their bodies shrank and their teeth shrank and their brains got big. They did all kinds of shape-shifting evolutionarily. Their brains grew significantly. It’s fascinating because scientists don’t know why. Most scientists’ main guess is that it was due to their changing social behavior. How did the dolphin know the girl was there? That’s the big question. They don’t rely on vision. I suspect it had something to do with frequency and vibration but of course that’s a guess. We don’t know. They tend to treat us the way they would treat other dolphins. By themselves, they’re vulnerable - to sharks, getting lost, all these things. So when you see dolphins together there is constant touching. They know how to help each other.
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My research team and I were following a school of bottlenose dolphins near shore ... off Los Angeles, California. The dolphins were still feeding in circle near shore, when suddenly, one individual changed direction heading out toward deeper water. A minute later, the rest of the school turned to follow. Seeing them abruptly leave a foraging ground and change direction came as a surprise to the research team. I decided to follow them. The dolphins increased their speed. Somewhere near three miles offshore the dolphin group stopped, forming a sort of ring around a dark object in the water. “Someone’s in the water!” yelled my assistant, standing up and pointing at the seemingly lifeless body of a girl. As the boat neared, she feebly turned her head toward us, half-raising her hand as a weak sign for help. If we didn’t act immediately, the girl would die. We [pulled] the frail and hypothermic body on board. “She is cyanotic,” said one of my researchers, also a lifeguard, after a cursory examination. “She has severe hypothermia. We need to get her warm!” We managed to get some of her wet garments off and wrap her in a blanket. We took turns keeping her warm by huddling with her under the blanket. A couple of hours later, we were all waiting outside the emergency room at the Marina del Rey hospital. The ER doctor came out to talk with us. The girl, it seems, would pull through, and he thanked us for our quick action. He tells us the girl was vacationing in L.A. from Germany and, as the letter found in her plastic bag explained, she was attempting suicide. If we hadn’t found her, if the dolphins hadn’t led us offshore when they did, to that specific place, she would have died.
Note: This article has been adapted from the book Dolphin Confidential: Confessions of a Field Biologist. For more on the amazing capacities of dolphins and other marine mammals, as well as the threats they face from human activities, click here. For a treasure trove of great news articles which will inspire you to make a difference, click here.
Japanese fishermen drove a large group of dolphins into the shallows ... and, hiding from reporters and TV cameras behind a tarpaulin, killed at least 30 as the annual dolphin hunt that sparked protest in the West entered its final stages. Both the U.S. and British ambassadors to Japan have strongly criticized the "drive killings" of dolphins citing the "terrible suffering" inflicted on the marine mammals. Every year the fishermen of Taiji, in western Wakayama prefecture, drive hundreds of dolphins into a cove, select some for sale to marine parks, release some and kill the rest for meat. On Tuesday, at least 30 dolphins out of the group of more than 200 held in the cove since Friday were herded by boat engines and nets into a killing area of the Taiji cove. Before the killing began, fishermen pulled a tarpaulin in front of the cove to prevent activists and reporters from seeing the killing. A large pool of blood seeped under the tarpaulin and spread across the cove. "A metal rod was stabbed into their spinal cord, where they were left to bleed out, suffocate and die. After a traumatic four days held captive in the killing cove, they experienced violent captive selection, being separated from their family, and then eventually were killed today," Sea Shepherd Conservation Society activist Melissa Sehgal told Reuters. The annual hunt has long been a source of controversy and was the topic of "The Cove", an Oscar-winning documentary that brought Taiji into the international spotlight.
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Scientists have made the first discovery in 100 years of a new river dolphin species in the waters of the Araguaia river in Brazil's vast Amazon rainforest. The discovery of the Inia araguaiaensis was officially announced earlier this week in a study posted online by the Plos One scientific journal. The study's lead author, biologist Tomas Hrbek, of the Federal University of Amazonas in the city of Manaus, said the new species is the third ever found in the Amazon region. "It was an unexpected discovery that shows just how incipient our knowledge is of the region's biodiversity," Hrbek said by telephone. "River dolphins are among the rarest and most endangered of all vertebrates, so discovering a new species is something that is very rare and exciting." He said: "people always saw them in the river but no one ever took a close up look at them." Hrbek added that scientists concluded the large dolphin was a new species by analysing and comparing DNA samples of several types of dolphins from the Amazon and Araguaia river basins. There [are] about 1,000 Inia araguaiaensis dolphins living in the 2,627km-long (1,630 miles) river.
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Environmental organizations filed a lawsuit [on December 16] against the National Marine Fisheries Service to demand it force the Navy to consider alternatives to its five-year plan that will intensify its sonar use off Southern California and Hawaii. Earthjustice, representing several groups, filed the lawsuit ... only hours after the federal agency announced it had decided to grant the Navy permits to move ahead with its plans for training and testing in the Pacific. Environmentalists [favor] creating zones that would be off-limits to biologically sensitive areas [and] want the Navy to avoid training in certain spots seasonally when they are rich in marine life. "The science is clear: sonar and live-fire training in the ocean harms marine mammals," said Marsha Green of Ocean Mammal Institute. "There are safer ways to conduct Navy exercises that include time and place restrictions to avoid areas known to be vital for marine mammals' feeding, breeding and resting." Reported mass strandings of beaked whales have increased around the world since the military started using sonar more than half a century ago. The sounds can scare animals into shallow waters where they can become disoriented and wash ashore. Aside from beachings, biologists are concerned about prolonged stress from changes in diving, feeding and communication habits. Two recent studies off the Southern California coast found certain endangered blue whales and beaked whales stopped feeding and fled from recordings of noise similar to military sonar. Beaked whales are highly sensitive to sound and account for the majority of strandings near military exercises.
Note: Consider that naval sonar doesn't "scare" marine mammals, but rather drives them insane with the intensity of noise. Imagine a huge siren right next to your ears. You would certainly flee to try to get away. This is likely what is causing many of the whale and dolphin strandings. Studies have found stranded animals to have perforated ear drums, as you can read in this NBC News article. How much sound does it take to perforate an ear drum? For more on threats to marine mammals, see the deeply revealing reports from reliable major media sources available here.
Environmental groups sued the Obama administration ... for granting the Navy permits to test underwater sonar along the West Coast -- and potentially harass up to 650,000 porpoises, seals, dolphins and whales over a five-year period. The alliance said it wasn't seeking to stop the testing but to scale it back, especially at certain times and in waters important for feeding and giving birth. Several studies have found that marine mammals can hear low-frequency sonar, which is magnified under water, and periodically dolphins and even whales have been found with perforated ear drums. The National Marine Fisheries Service "fell down on the job and failed to require the Navy to take reasonable and effective actions to protect" marine mammals, Steve Mashuda, an attorney for the law firm Earthjustice, said. The lawsuit ... claims that the Navy's sonar use might be strong enough to kill the animals outright. But even if it doesn't, it claims, the repeated use of sonar in certain critical habitats is unwarranted. In 2010, the fisheries service approved the Navy's five-year plan for operations in the Northwest Training Range Complex, an area roughly the size of California that stretches from Washington state to Northern California. Under the five-year plan, the service said it was acceptable for the Navy to incur up to 650,000 cases of harassment of marine mammals.
Note: Sonar can drive drive marine mammals insane with the intensity of noise. Imagine a huge siren right next to your ears. You would certainly flee to try to get away. This is likely what is causing many of the whale and dolphin strandings. How much sound does it take to perforate an ear drum, as is mentioned in this article? For more on threats to marine mammals, see the deeply revealing reports from reliable major media sources available here.
Navy training and testing could inadvertently kill hundreds of whales and dolphins and injure thousands over the next five years, mostly as a result of detonating explosives underwater, according to two environmental impact statements released by the military [on August 30]. The Navy said that the studies focused on waters off the East Coast, the Gulf of Mexico, Southern California and Hawaii from 2014 through 2019, the main areas that the service branch tests equipment and trains sailors. Most of the deaths would come from explosives, though some might come from testing sonar or animals being hit by ships. According to the reports, computer models show it may kill 186 whales and dolphins off the East Coast and 155 off Hawaii and Southern California. But Michael Jasny, senior policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the Navy was underestimating the effect its activities on marine mammals. For example, he pointed to a study by government and private sector scientists published just last month in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society showing mid-frequency active sonar can disrupt blue whale feeding. The study says feeding disruptions and the movement of whales away from their prey could significantly affect the health of individual whales and the overall health of baleen whale populations. Jasny said the Navy's ocean activities are "simply not sustainable." "These smaller disruptions short of death are themselves accumulating into something like death for species and death for populations," Jasny said.
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Federal wildlife officials raised a formal alarm on [August 8] over the deaths of scores of bottlenose dolphins in waters off the east coast, saying that a fast-spreading infection could be attacking dolphin populations from New York to Virginia. At least 124 of the mammals have washed onto beaches since July, all of them dead or dying, a spokeswoman for the National Marine Fisheries Service said. The agency, which is responsible for monitoring and protecting marine mammals, declared the deaths to be an “unusual mortality event,” opening the way for federal help in finding the cause. In July alone, 89 dolphins were beached, seven times the usual number. Tests on one dolphin carcass have uncovered possible signs of morbillivirus, an infection similar to canine distemper that ravaged East Coast dolphins over a 10-month span in 1987 and 1988. More than 700 dolphins were stranded from New Jersey to Florida during that outbreak, one of the worst on record. But news reports state that other dolphins stranded this summer had pneumonia, and officials said that it could take weeks to pin down the precise cause, if one is found. Unusual mortality events are declared when a marine mammal die-off is judged unexpected, large and in need of immediate attention. Investigators have failed to find a cause of death in roughly half the 60 mortality events declared since the first one in 1991. There are undoubtedly more dead or sick animals at sea that have gone undetected, officials said. The bulk of the deaths, at least 64, have occurred off the coast of Virginia. At least 18 strandings have been recorded in New York waters and 26 off New Jersey.
Note: For additional details about the mysterious deaths of dolphins, manatees and pelicans on the East Coast, click here. For more on mysterious mass deaths of animals, see the deeply revealing reports from reliable major media sources available here.
They escape from aquarium tanks. They locate underwater mines. Now, a new paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science claims that dolphins recognized their own name when called. Vincent Janik, one of the authors of the study and a biology researcher at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, said that the name is actually a specific type of dolphin vocalization that the animals respond to. "They're these high pitched whistles that have a little bit of a melody," he told ABC News. These sounds are referred to as "signature whistles." Janik and his colleague, Stephanie King, cruised along the east coast of Scotland looking for bottlenose dolphins. After spotting and identifying a dolphin in the wild, the researchers would play one of three different sounds: a modified sound clip of that dolphin's signature whistle, a signature whistle of one of its podmates, or the signature whistle of a completely foreign dolphin. They played the dolphin's own signature whistle and the animal would come up and approach the boat and whistle back. However, the dolphin didn't respond to the other two types of whistles and mostly kept about its business. It may seem odd that the dolphins don't react much to the whistles of their fellow herdmates, but Janik says that copying a dolphin's signature whistle just right is part of their social group. "This copying only occurs between closely associated animals, like between mothers and their calves," he said. Dolphins only need to respond to their own signature whistles, since any socially relevant animal will have learned how to copy it. "It says to them, 'I know that this [whistle] is a friend.'"
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Whales flee from the loud military sonar used by navies to hunt submarines, new research has proven for the first time. The studies provide a missing link in the puzzle that has connected naval exercises around the world to unusual mass strandings of whales and dolphins. Beaked whales, the most common casualty of the strandings, were shown to be highly sensitive to sonar. But the research also revealed unexpectedly that blue whales, the largest animals on Earth and whose population has plummeted by 95% in the last century, also abandoned feeding and swam rapidly away from sonar noise. The strong response observed in the beaked whales occurred at noise levels well below those allowed for US navy exercises. "For whales and dolphins, listening is as important as seeing is for humans – they communicate, locate food, and navigate using sound," said Sarah Dolman, at charity Whale and Dolphin Conservation. "Noise pollution threatens vulnerable populations, driving them away from areas important to their survival, and at worst injuring or even causing the deaths of some whales and dolphins." Dolman said there were no accepted international standards regarding noise pollution and there was an urgent need to re-evaluate the environmental impacts of military activities. Unusual mass strandings, where multiple species of whale and dolphin beach at several locations at once, have soared since the introduction of military sonar in the 1950s and can be fatal. The strandings occur every year and major recent events saw up to 15 animals beached in the Canary Islands, the Bahamas and Greece.
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The ocean depths have become a noisy place. The causes are human: the sonar blasts of military exercises, the booms from air guns used in oil and gas exploration, and the whine from fleets of commercial ships that relentlessly crisscross the global seas. Marine experts say the rising clamor is particularly dangerous to whales, which depend on their acute hearing to locate food and one another. To fight the din, ... the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration seeks to document human-made noises in the ocean and transform the results into the world’s first large sound maps. “It’s a first step,” Leila T. Hatch, a marine biologist and one of the project’s two directors, said of the sound maps. “No one’s ever done it on this scale.” Michael Jasny, a senior policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council, [which] has sued the Navy to reduce sounds that can harm marine mammals, praised the maps as “magnificent” and their depictions of sound pollution as “incredibly disturbing.” Legal experts say the new findings are likely to accelerate efforts both domestically and internationally to deal with the complicated problem through laws, regulations, treaties and voluntary noise reductions. The Navy estimates that blasts from its sonars — used in training and to hunt enemy submarines — result in permanent hearing losses for hundreds of sea mammals every year and temporary losses for thousands. All told, annually the injured animals number more than a quarter million.
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Late last year, fishermen began finding dead dolphins, hundreds of them, washed up on Peru’s northern coast. Now, seabirds have begun dying, too, and the government has yet to conclusively pinpoint a cause. Officials insist that the two die-offs are unrelated. The dolphins are succumbing to a virus, they suggest, and the seabirds are dying of starvation because anchovies are in short supply. There is growing suspicion among the public and scientists that there might be more to the story. Some argue that offshore oil exploration could be disturbing wildlife, for example, and others fear that biotoxins or pesticides might be working their way up the food chain. At least 877 dolphins and more than 1,500 birds, most of them brown pelicans and boobies, have died since the government began tracking the deaths in February, the Environment Ministry said last week. The dolphins, many of which appeared to have decomposed in the ocean before washing ashore, were found in the Piura and Lambayeque regions, not far from the border with Ecuador. The seabirds, which seem mostly to have died onshore, have been found from Lambayeque to Lima. In offshore seismic testing, ships tow arrays of air guns that release high-pressure air under water, producing sound waves that can be analyzed to locate oil and gas deposits deep under the ocean floor.
Note: A San Francisco Chronicle article on this states, "All of the 20 or so animals ... examined showed middle-ear hemorrhage and fracture of the ear's periotic bone. ... Most of the dolphins apparently were alive when they beached." Clearly sonic blasts of some sort are driving these intelligent animals to beach themselves and commit suicide. For clear evidence that this is the result of oil exploration, click here. For lots more from major media sources on the threats to marine mammals from human activities, click here. And for more on the mysterious mass animal deaths occurring worldwide, click here.
A new study of dolphins living close to the site of North America's worst ever oil spill – the BP Deepwater Horizon catastrophe two years ago – has established serious health problems afflicting the marine mammals. The report, commissioned by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [NOAA], found that many of the 32 dolphins studied were underweight, anaemic and suffering from lung and liver disease. More than 200m gallons of crude oil flowed from the well after a series of explosions on 20 April 2010, which killed 11 workers. The spill contaminated the Gulf of Mexico and its coastline in what President Barack Obama called America's worst environmental disaster. The research follows the publication of several scientific studies into insect populations on the nearby Gulf coastline and into the health of deepwater coral populations, which all suggest that the environmental impact of the five-month long spill may have been far worse than previously appreciated. The study of the dolphins ... followed two years in which the number of dead dolphins found stranded on the coast close to the spill had dramatically increased. Although all but one of the 32 dolphins were still alive when the study ended, lead researcher Lori Schwacke said survival prospects for many were grim. A study of deep ocean corals seven miles from the spill source jointly funded by the NOAA and BP has found dead and dying corals coated "in brown gunk". Chemical analysis of oil found on the dying coral showed that it came from the Deepwater Horizon spill.
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Conservationists counted 615 dead dolphins along a 90-mile stretch of beaches in Peru ... and the leading suspect is acoustic testing offshore by oil companies. "If you can count 615 dead dolphins, you can be sure there are a great many more out at sea and the total will reach into the thousands,” Hardy Jones, head of the conservation group BlueVoice.org, said in a statement after he and an expert with ORCA Peru walked the beaches. BlueVoice.org stated that "initial tests ... show evidence of acoustical impact from sonic blasts used in exploration for oil." The ORCA Peru expert, veterinarian Carlos Yaipen Llanos, said that while "we have no definitive evidence," he suspects acoustic testing created ... a sonic blast that led to internal bleeding, loss of equilibrium and disorientation. Another possibility is that the dolphins suffered from a disease outbreak, Yaipen Llanos said. "It is a horrifying thought that these dolphins would die in agony over a prolonged period if they were impacted by sonic blast," said Jones. Numerous dolphins first started washing ashore in January, with the largest amount coming in early February. Thousands of dead anchovies were also seen. BlueVoice.org noted that the U.S. has suspended similar testing in the Gulf of Mexico due to recent sightings of dead and sick dolphins. The ban was set to last through the dolphins' calving season, which ends in May.
Note: A San Francisco Chronicle article on this a few days later states, "All of the 20 or so animals ... examined showed middle-ear hemorrhage and fracture of the ear's periotic bone. ... Most of the dolphins apparently were alive when they beached." Clearly sonic blasts of some sort are driving these intelligent animals to beach themselves and commit suicide. For clear evidence this is the result of oil exploration, click here. For many other excellent media articles on whales on dolphins, click here.
Something that has been missing from San Francisco Bay since World War II appears to be making a comeback: Harbor porpoises are showing up in growing numbers, and researchers are trying to understand why they're returning. Bill Keener ... is with Golden Gate Cetacean Research, a nonprofit group focused on studying local porpoises, whales and dolphins. Harbor porpoises, ... feeding in the middle of a busy shipping lane, spin as they go after schools of herring and anchovies. Seeing this behavior is huge for Keener because harbor porpoises are notoriously shy in the open ocean. But the fact that they're here at all is what's most remarkable. Keener and his colleagues have identified 250 porpoises with their photos by looking for unique scars on the animals. The big question, though, is why harbor porpoises disappeared in the first place. Keener says the bay has always been porpoise habitat. Sightings were common until the 1930s. "There were a lot of things going on during World War II that could have caused [the decline]," he says. Water quality has dramatically improved since the 1970s, which may be bringing the porpoises back.
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Baby bottlenose dolphins are washing up dead in record numbers on the shores of Alabama and Mississippi, alarming scientists and a federal agency charged with monitoring the health of the Gulf of Mexico. Moby Solangi, the executive director of the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies (IMMS) in Gulfport, Mississippi, said ... he's never seen such high death numbers. "I've worked with marine mammals for 30 years, and this is the first time we've seen such a high number of calves," he said. "It's alarming." At least 24 baby dolphins have washed up on the shores of the two states since the beginning of the year -- more than ten times the normal rate. Also, six older dolphins died.
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