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Nearly 300 dead bottlenose dolphins — three times as many as normal — have washed up along the beaches of the Gulf Coast this year. While scientists can’t explain the sudden surge, some at least have theories.
The NOAA has declared the phenomenon an “Unusual Mortality Event,” or UME, which means the number of dead dolphins is alarming enough to warrant an official response. A UME was last declared in the area following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010; the declaration lasted through July of 2014.
The gruesome deaths raise serious questions about the practices of fishing trawlers. More than 1,000 dolphins have washed up on the western shore of France in the first three months of 2019. The number of deaths is shocking, but so are the bodies, revealing what marine researchers described as "extreme levels of mutilation."
The animals get trapped in fishing nets dragged behind trawlers working in pairs. They suffer an agonizing death by drowning, as they are mammals that need to breathe air. Lamya Essemlali, president of Sea Shepherd, told the Associated Press,
"These fishing vessels have nets that are not selective at all, so when they put their net in the water and the water is full of dolphins they get in the net... What happens is they suffocate and they also injure themselves when they try to get away from the nets, and that’s the reason why we find all these marks on their bodies."