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Hundreds of dead dolphins washed up Friday along the shore of a popular tourist destination on Zanzibar's northern coast, and scientists ruled out poisoning. The bottleneck dolphins, which live in deep offshore waters, had empty stomachs, meaning that they could have been disoriented and were swimming for some time to reorient themselves. They did not starve to death and were not poisoned. In the United States, experts were investigating the possibility that sonar from U.S. submarines could have been responsible for a similar incident in Marathon, Florida, where 68 deep-water dolphins stranded themselves in March 2005. A U.S. Navy task force patrols the East Africa coast as part of counterterrorism operations.
Federal marine specialists have concluded that Navy sonar was the most likely cause of the unusual stranding of melon-headed whales in a Hawaiian bay in 2004. The appearance of as many as 200 of the normally deep-diving whales in Hanalei Bay in Kauai occurred while a major American-Japanese sonar training exercise was taking place. The report is the latest in a series of scientific reviews linking traditional mid-frequency naval sonar to whale strandings. The active sonar used by navies sends out loud pings of sound that seem to frighten and disorient whales. The effect was documented off Greece in 1996 and established later during naval exercises in the Bahamas, off the Canary Islands and off Spain. In the 2000 Bahamas stranding, a local marine biologist collected some of the whales that died onshore and froze them for later study -- which helped NOAA conclude that sonar was the likely cause. Michael Jasny, a senior consultant with NRDC, said the NOAA report was worrisome. "Once again, the Navy's denial has been contradicted by the official government investigation. It's time for the Navy to stop this needless infliction of harm."
One of North America’s most dazzling natural phenomena, the annual winter migration to central Mexico by millions of monarch butterflies from the northern United States and Canada, has shrunk to record lows and is in danger of ending. The monarch migration has been documented in books and movies and attracts thousands of tourists to a nature preserve about 100 miles west of Mexico City. The black-and-orange butterflies hang from the trees there like shaggy beards. In the 20 years since environmentalists began keeping detailed records of the monarch’s winter habitats, the butterflies have covered as much as 45 acres of forest in the Mexican state of Michoacan. But the most recent winter count showed how far the migrating monarch population has fallen: As of December, they blanketed just 1.6 acres of forest, the smallest area yet. The butterflies face numerous threats across North America. In Michoacan, illegal logging has cut into their winter habitat in the oyamel fir trees, although government conservation efforts have slowed the rate of deforestation. In the United States and Canada, herbicides used in industrial-scale farming have destroyed the milkweed plants where they lay their eggs. Omar Vidal, the director of the World Wildlife Fund’s Mexico office, said he wants North American leaders to agree on a plan to protect the monarch, saying the migration “symbolically unites our three countries.”
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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."
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