Human Consumption of Marine Mammals on the Rise

Research suggests that over the past 20 years, human consumption of marine mammal species has increased.  The Wildlife Conservation Society and the Okapi Wildlife Associates conducted a three year study focusing on marine mammal fishing and consumption. The researchers examined records from fisheries concentrating on catching small whales, dolphins, and porpoises.  They also conferred with numerous researchers and environmentalists on the growing trend of consuming marine mammal species. 

Subsequently, the researchers found that since 1990, people in at least 114 countries had consumed at least one of 87 marine mammal species. These included the bottlenose dolphin,  Burmeister’s porpoise, California sea lion, Chilean dolphin, long-finned pilot whale, manatee, narwhal, polar bear, pygmy beaked whale, seal, and South Asian river dolphin.

The reason for the rise in human consumption of marine mammal species, especially in coastal areas and estuaries, is partly due to changes in fishing techniques.  These marine mammals are being caught unintentionally in fishing nets used to catch other fish.  In addition, in places like Congo, Gabon, and Madagascar, marine mammal species are being hunted for food.  In these coastal areas, marine mammals are considered viable sources of protein.  However, the Wildlife Conservation Society is helping to educate fishermen in these areas to catch sustainable fish rather than wild marine mammals.

In the United States, there are laws and regulations protecting marine wildlife.  For instance, the Endangered Species Act (ESA), protects endangered and threatened species and their ecosystems from further destruction, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) share responsibility in upholding the ESA.  Furthermore, the Marine Mammal Protection Act prohibits the capturing or killing of marine mammals in U.S. waters or by U.S. citizens.  There are also international regulations to help monitor the trade of endangered species, including marine wildlife.  For example, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) is a treaty that regulates the trade of endangered animal and plant species. 

Nevertheless, marine mammals are still at risk of being caught and killed by fishing nets intended to catch other marine species.  According to a report issued by the World Wildlife Fund – U.S., a worrying amount of at-risk species of dolphins and porpoises are being killed by fishing nets.  It has been noted that the gillnet, in particular, poses a significant risk of entrapping dolphins and porpoises.  Gillnetting involves suspending a curtain of netting using a system of floats and weights.  Gillnetting is primarily used to catch cod, salmon, and sardines, but often entraps other marine wildlife species such as dolphins, turtles, and even sharks.  Sadly, almost 1,000 cetaceans (dolphins, porpoises, and whales) die due to fishing nets and gear every day!  In addition, marine experts believe that almost 300,000 cetaceans die annually by fishing gear.

The amount of marine mammals who succumb to fishing nets can be reduced with the use of alternative fishing methods such as crab pots or installing pingers (devices that emit sounds to scare dolphins, porpoises, and whales away) near fishing nets.  And as always, education is key to raising awareness and preventing the future deaths of marine mammals due to destructive fishing practices. 

Furthermore, laws and regulations protecting marine wildlife need to be enforced.  Leading conservationists recommend that in order to stop the deaths of marine mammals, there needs to be better data on fishing practices and increased monitoring of marine mammals, especially in developing nations where there are far more small-scale, decentralized fisheries that escape monitoring.  For more information regarding destructive fishing practices and to help protect marine wildlife, visit http://www.marinemammalcenter.org/.

Photo credit: physorg.com/news173298649

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