Dolphin and Whale News StoriesExcerpts of Key Dolphin and Whale News Stories in Major Media
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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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The Navy plans to increase ocean warfare exercises, conduct more sonar tests and expand coastal training areas by hundreds of square miles — activities that could harass, injure or disturb the habitats of hundreds of thousands of marine mammals, federal records show. The Navy is seeking federal permits to broaden an existing range off the Pacific Northwest and dramatically expand exercises and sonar use in the Gulf of Alaska. The Navy's plans have ignited a debate with environmental groups that say the service underestimates the long-term impact of its activities and fails to restrict training sufficiently in marine sanctuaries and other areas where it is likely to affect sensitive species. The plans to expand training off the Pacific Northwest, where the service's exercise areas reach into the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, have drawn about 3,500 public comments, most in opposition. Critics of the Navy's plans point to its use of new sonar systems that can disrupt marine mammals' brain function and behavior, noting that even brief disorientation or other "temporary" effects can have serious consequences, such as changes in reproductive activity. Among the most serious concerns is the potential for whales to strand themselves on beaches: Since 2000, there have been at least four instances in which mass strandings of whales have been associated with the Navy's sonar use, federal records show.
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Interpol has placed the head of anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd, Paul Watson, on its international wanted list. Interpol has issued a so-called blue notice, asking national police forces to pass on information about Mr Watson's whereabouts and activities. The Sea Shepherd leader has harassed the Japanese whaling fleet for the past few years, limiting the number of whales caught for so-called scientific research. Mr Watson, who is in the United States, says the notice does not make any sense. "It's a blue notice which means it's not an arrest warrant, it's just so they can keep tabs on me. But they needn't have wasted their time, they could have just followed our website," he said. "One thing that it does mean to me is that we're certainly getting to them. We cut their kill quotas in half and they're really desperate that we not go back down there this year. But I can tell them we'll certainly be back down in the Southern Ocean harassing them again in December."
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A Sunday Times investigation has exposed Japan for bribing small nations with cash and prostitutes to gain their support for the mass slaughter of whales. The undercover investigation found officials from six countries were willing to consider selling their votes on the International Whaling Commission (IWC). The revelations come as Japan seeks to break the 24-year moratorium on commercial whaling. An IWC meeting that will decide the fate of thousands of whales, including endangered species, begins this month in Morocco. Japan denies buying the votes of IWC members. However, The Sunday Times filmed officials from pro-whaling governments admitting: - They voted with the whalers because of the large amounts of aid from Japan. One said he was not sure if his country had any whales in its territorial waters. Others are landlocked. – They receive cash payments in envelopes at IWC meetings from Japanese officials who pay their travel and hotel bills. - One disclosed that call girls were offered when fisheries ministers and civil servants visited Japan for meetings. Barry Gardiner, an MP and former Labour biodiversity minister, said the investigation revealed "disgraceful, shady practice", which is "effectively buying votes".
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Dolphins have been declared the world's second most intelligent creatures after humans, with scientists suggesting they are so bright that they should be treated as "non-human persons". Studies into dolphin behaviour have highlighted how similar their communications are to those of humans and that they are brighter than chimpanzees. These have been backed up by anatomical research showing that dolphin brains have many key features associated with high intelligence. The researchers argue that their work shows it is morally unacceptable to keep such intelligent animals in amusement parks or to kill them for food or by accident when fishing. Some 300,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises die in this way each year. "Many dolphin brains are larger than our own and second in mass only to the human brain when corrected for body size," said Lori Marino, a zoologist at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, who has used magnetic resonance imaging scans to map the brains of dolphin species and compare them with those of primates. Thomas White, professor of ethics at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, who has written a series of academic studies suggesting dolphins should have rights, [said], "The scientific research ... suggests that dolphins are â€non-human persons' who qualify for moral standing as individuals."
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Filmmaker Louie Psihoyos discusses his new documentary, "The Cove", a shocking and moving account of dolphin abuse off the coast of Taijii, Japan. Psihoyos and his team painstakingly documented a thriving operation that captures dolphins, the healthiest and handsomest of which are sold to aquariums worldwide. The rest are slaughtered, often ending up as food for human consumption, despite high mercury levels. Going into the village of Taijii, Psihoyos tells Fresh Air, is "like walking into a Stephen King novel." There's lots of visible marketing — statues, murals— proclaiming the town's love of dolphins. "The whole town was built around loving dolphins and whales. And then in the middle of town, is this national park that even Japanese people can't go in. Big tall fences, steel spikes on the gates, razor ribbon, barbed wire, a series of tunnels to get through on one side to get there — it was like a fortress. And Ric said, 'That's where this all happens' — in this national park.' " "Ric" is Ric O'Barry — a former dolphin trainer responsible for teaching the dolphins of TV's Flipper their tricks. He has devoted years to rescuing the intelligent mammals he once helped capture. "I get more upset with the dolphin trainers I see there than the fishermen," O'Barry tells Terry Gross. Japanese fishermen, he explains, think of dolphins as being in the same category as fish — not least, O'Barry says, because the Japanese character for "whale" translates literally into "monster fish." "But the dolphin trainers, who are there working side by side with them, look [the dolphins] in the eye every day," O'Barry says. "They give them names. They spend time with them. They know they're self-aware."
Scientists have now documented behaviors like tool use and cooperative hunting strategies among whales. Orcas, or killer whales, have been found to mourn their own dead. Just three years ago, researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York discovered, in the brains of a number of whale species, highly specialized neurons that are linked to, among other things, the use of language and were once thought to be the exclusive property of humans and a few other primates. Indeed, marine biologists are now revealing not only the dizzying variety of vocalizations among a number of whale species but also complex societal structures and cultures. Whales, we now know, teach and learn. They scheme. They cooperate, and they grieve. They recognize themselves and their friends. They know and fight back against their enemies. And perhaps most stunningly, given all of our transgressions against them, they may even, in certain circumstances, have learned to trust us. For all of their inherent elusiveness, the gray whales of Baja baffle scientists for the opposite reason: They can’t seem to get enough of us humans. The question of why present-day gray-whale mothers, some of whom still bear harpoon scars, would take to seeking us out and gently shepherding their young into our arms is a mystery that now captivates whale researchers and watchers alike. There may be something far more compelling going on in the lagoons of Baja each winter and spring. Something, let’s say, along the lines of that time-worn plot conceit behind many a film, in which the peaceable greetings of alien visitors are tragically rebuffed by human fear and ignorance. Except that in this particular rendition, the aliens keep coming back, trying, perhaps, to give us another chance.
Note: For many important reports from reliable sources on the amazing capabilities of marine mammals, as well as serious threats to their well-being and survival from human activities, click here.
The U.S. Navy wants to teach sailors how to hunt submarines off the coast of Jacksonville, but it's trying to prove its proposed undersea-warfare-training range won't hurt the world's most endangered whale. Concern about harm to the North Atlantic right whale from military sonar, vessels and torpedoes might pose a stumbling block to the proposed $100 million training range, which could be built near the whale's protected calving area. The U.S. Navy announced earlier this year that it wants to build the undersea-warfare-training range in a 662-square-mile zone nearly 58 miles off Jacksonville. Environmentalists fear whales could die from being run over by ships or becoming disoriented from the sonar. "Under federal law, environmental issues have to be placed on par with other national interests, including economic concerns and military training," said Michelle B. Nowlin, supervising attorney for the Environmental Law and Policy Clinic at the Duke University School of Law. "The courts have been very clear there must be a balance of those interests." Federal reports say the death of even one pregnant female could risk the species' survival. That's why more than a dozen conservation groups have opposed a permanent range for the sonar-based warfare training near the calving grounds. Military sonar, broadcasting an active midfrequency signal at 235 decibels, has a lethal history, with a dozen cases worldwide of mass whale and dolphin strandings and evidence of damage to their hearing after underwater exercises.
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The songs that whales and dolphins use to communicate, orient themselves and find mates are being drowned out by human-made noises in the world's oceans. That sound pollution -- everything from increasing commercial shipping and seismic surveys to a new generation of military sonar -- is not only confounding the mammals, it also is further threatening the survival of these endangered animals. Studies show that these cetaceans, which once communicated over thousands of miles to forage and mate, are losing touch with each other, ... experts said at a U.N. wildlife conference in Rome. "Call it a cocktail-party effect," said Mark Simmonds, director of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, a Britain-based NGO. "You have to speak louder and louder until no one can hear each other anymore." Environmental groups also are increasingly finding cases of beached whales and dolphins that can be linked to sound pollution, Simmonds said. Marine mammals are turning up on the world's beaches with tissue damage similar to that found in divers suffering from decompression sickness. Scientists say the use of military sonar or seismic testing may have scared the animals into diving and surfacing beyond their physical limits. Several species of cetaceans are already listed as endangered or critically endangered from other causes, including hunting, chemical pollution, collisions with boats and entanglements with fishing equipment. Though it is not yet known precisely how many animals are affected, sound pollution is increasingly being recognized as a serious factor, the experts said.
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In issuing a deliberately narrow ruling yesterday in a controversial case involving whales and the U.S. Navy, the Supreme Court strongly indicated that it intends to defer to the military in future disputes pitting national security against environmental concerns. The justices voted 6 to 3 to lift restrictions on the Navy's use of sonar off the Southern California coast, backing the military in a longstanding battle over whether anti-submarine training harms marine mammals. Environmentalists say the exercises disrupt habitats and leave the mammals with permanent hearing loss and decompression sickness. But the Navy argued that the training missions are essential to detecting a new generation of "quiet" submarines deployed by China, North Korea and other potential adversaries. "We do not discount the importance of plaintiffs' ecological, scientific, and recreational interests in marine mammals," Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote in the first decision of the court's current term. "Those interests, however, are plainly outweighed by the Navy's need to conduct realistic training exercises to ensure that it is able to neutralize the threat posed by enemy submarines." Although the majority tailored its decision on narrow legal grounds and indicated that future environmental disputes will be decided on a case-by-case basis, the court made sweeping statements of deference to military judgments. Roberts unquestioningly accepted the assertion of top Navy officers that the exercises "are of utmost importance to the Navy and the Nation," writing that "the proper determination of where the public interest lies does not strike us as a close question."
White House officials for more than a year have blocked a rule aimed at protecting endangered North Atlantic right whales by challenging the findings of government scientists, according to documents obtained by the Union of Concerned Scientists. The documents, which were mailed to the environmental group by an unidentified National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration official, illuminate a struggle that has raged between the White House and NOAA for more than a year. In February 2007, NOAA issued a final rule aimed at slowing ships traversing some East Coast waters to 10 knots or less during parts of the year to protect the right whales, but the White House has blocked the rule from taking effect. North Atlantic right whales, whose surviving population numbers fewer than 400, are one of the most endangered species on Earth, and scientists have warned that the loss of just one more pregnant female could doom the species. Some shipping companies have opposed the NOAA proposal, saying slowing their vessels will cost the industry money. The documents, which House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) released yesterday, show that the White House Council of Economic Advisers and Vice President Cheney's office repeatedly questioned whether the rule was needed. Waxman, who sent a letter to the White House asking for an explanation, said the exchange "appears to be the latest instance of the White House ignoring scientists and other experts." Since NOAA initially proposed the regulation, at least three right whales have died from ship strikes and two have been wounded by propellers.
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Anti-submarine sonar may have killed a group of whales found dead in the Hebrides in one of Britain's most unusual strandings, scientists believe. Five Cuvier's beaked whales, a species rarely seen in British waters, were discovered on beaches in the Western Isles on succeeding days in February. Another animal from a related species was discovered at the same time. Experts consider such a multiple stranding to be highly abnormal. The main suspect in the case is sonar, as it is known that beaked whales are highly sensitive to the powerful sound waves used by all the world's navies to locate underwater objects such as submarines. Groups of beaked whales have been killed, with sonar suspected as the direct cause, several times in recent years; well-documented incidents include anti-submarine exercises in Greece in 1996, the Bahamas in 2000 and the Canary Islands in 2002. Britain's Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society has now submitted a Freedom of Information request to the Ministry of Defence over the Hebridean strandings. The 21 species of beaked whale include some of the world's most rarely seen mammals; they are also the deepest-diving air-breathing animals. A Cuvier's beaked whale set the record for a deep dive two years ago: 1,899 metres, or 6,230ft, beneath the surface, holding its breath for an astonishing 85 minutes. The animals use these deep dives to forage, but when sonar gets involved, their remarkable habit may be their undoing. One theory is that the whales are so distressed by the intensely loud sound waves that they return too quickly to the surface, and in doing so, fatally suffer "the bends" – the formation of nitrogen bubbles in the blood which can kill human divers.
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A dolphin swam up to two distressed whales that appeared headed for death in a beach stranding in New Zealand and guided them to safety, witnesses said. The actions of the bottlenose dolphin -- named Moko by residents who said it spends much of its time swimming playfully with humans at the beach -- amazed would-be rescuers and an expert who said they were evidence of the species' friendly nature. The two pygmy sperm whales, a mother and her calf, were found stranded on Mahia Beach, about 500 kilometers (300 miles) northeast of the capital of Wellington, said Conservation Department worker Malcolm Smith. Rescuers worked for more than one hour to get the whales back into the water, only to see them strand themselves four times on a sandbar slightly out to sea. It looked likely the whales would have to be euthanized to prevent them suffering a prolonged death, Smith said. "They kept getting disorientated and stranding again," said Smith, who was among the rescuers. "They obviously couldn't find their way back past (the sandbar) to the sea." Along came Moko, who approached the whales and led them 200 meters (yards) along the beach and through a channel out to the open sea. "Moko just came flying through the water and pushed in between us and the whales," Juanita Symes, another rescuer, told The Associated Press. "She got them to head toward the hill, where the channel is. It was an amazing experience. The best day of my life." Smith speculated that Moko responded after hearing the whales' distress calls. "They had arched their backs and were calling to one another, but as soon as the dolphin turned up they submerged into the water and followed her."
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Surfer Todd Endris needed a miracle. The shark ... had hit him three times, peeling the skin off his back and mauling his right leg to the bone. That’s when a pod of bottlenose dolphins intervened, forming a protective ring around Endris, allowing him to get to shore, where quick first aid provided by a friend saved his life. The attack occurred ... at Marina State Park off Monterey, Calif. “Truly a miracle,” Endris [said]. “[It] came out of nowhere. Maybe I saw him a quarter second before it hit me. But no warning. It was just a giant shark.” The shark, estimated at 12 to 15 feet long, hit him first as Endris was sitting on his surfboard, but couldn’t get its monster jaws around both surfer and surfboard. “The second time, he came down and clamped on my torso — sandwiched my board and my torso in his mouth,” Endris said. That attack shredded his back, literally peeling the skin back, he said, “like a banana peel.” But because Endris’ stomach was pressed to the surfboard, his intestines and internal organs were protected. The third time, the shark tried to swallow Endris’ right leg, and he said that was actually a good thing, because the shark’s grip anchored him while he kicked the beast in the head and snout with his left leg until it let go. The dolphins, which had been cavorting in the surf all along, showed up then. They circled him, keeping the shark at bay, and enabled Endris to get back on his board and catch a wave to the shore. No one knows why dolphins protect humans, but stories of the marine mammals rescuing humans go back to ancient Greece, according to the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society. The shark went on its way, protected inside the waters of the park, which is a marine wildlife refuge. Endris wouldn’t want it any other way. “I wouldn’t want to go after the shark anyway,” he said. “We’re in his realm, not the other way around.”
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About 75 dolphins and 25 sea lions are housed at Naval Base Point Loma in San Diego Harbor as part of a Navy program to teach them to detect terrorists and mines underwater. The base briefly opened its doors to the media Thursday for the first time since the start of the war in Iraq. The display came a few weeks after the Navy announced plans to send up to 30 dolphins and sea lions to patrol the waters of Washington state's Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, which is home to nuclear submarines, ships and laboratories. Both species can find mines and spot swimmers in murky waters. Working in unison, the dolphins can drop a flashing light near a mine or a swimmer. The sea lions carry in their mouths a cable and a handcuff-like device that clamps onto a terrorist's leg. Sailors can then use the cable to reel in the terrorist. The Navy's sea mammal program started in the late 1950s and grew to comprise 140 animals during the Cold War.
Note: Yet the navy's sophisticated new sonar systems are killing dolphins and whales around the globe. For more on this, click here. And what if the dolphins and sea lions go on strike for better wages? ;o)
Important Note: Explore our full index to revealing excerpts of key major media news stories on several dozen engaging topics. And don't miss amazing excerpts from 20 of the most revealing news articles ever published.