At least 10% of dolphins and porpoises were found to have ingested ocean plastic, which can cause fatal tears and blockages. Of equal concern is ocean plastic ingestion by their prey species, which has lasting implications for the entire food chain.
Plastics in the environment can easily absorb a class of chemicals called POPs, or persistent organic pollutants. POPs have a high lipid solubility, which means they are attracted to fats and oils.
When an animal ingests plastic, the chemicals absorbed by the plastic can pass through cell membranes and bioaccumulate, or build up, in the animal’s fatty tissue over time. POPs can interfere with body processes, be passed onto offspring, and impact reproduction.
Dolphins and porpoises are affected not just by the plastic they ingest, but by the plastic their prey species consume as well. Toxins become concentrated in animals higher up the food chain in a process called biomagnification. So dolphins and porpoises are also consuming all of the toxins that have built up in their prey species.
Plastics have been found to accumulate POPs at concentrations of up to 1 million times greater than what you’d find in the surrounding seawater, which is accelerating the rate at which animals like dolphins and porpoises are affected.
Lost and abandoned fishing gear makes up around 10% of all ocean litter. Every year, more than 300,000 dolphins, porpoises, and other cetaceans die after becoming tangled in it. Some animals drown when they can’t reach the surface while others remain tangled in the gear and eventually succumb to infections or starvation.
While some dolphins and porpoises are specifically targeted by fishermen, the vaquita is not. It’s actually bycatch that’s the biggest threat to their survival. They often become entangled in the illegal gillnets of poachers who are hunting the equally endangered totoaba fish. The totoabas’ large swim bladders have a high value on the Chinese black market and provide enough financial incentive to make the risks of poaching worth it to the offenders. The vaquitas’ critically endangered status is an unfortunate consequence of illegal fishing that targets another species entirely.
Dolphins and porpoises use sound to find food, communicate, and travel. They listen the way we see. Sound is crucial to their survival, but humans are making the ocean louder.
Noise pollution interrupts normal behavioral patterns and drives dolphins and porpoises away from crucial habitats. It can also cause serious injuries and can even be fatal.
For example, the oil and gas industry uses seismology to find underwater reservoirs of oil and gas, which directs loud pulses of noise at the seabed. The military uses powerful underwater sonar. It can travel hundreds of miles and retain an intensity of 140 decibels for up to 300 miles. For reference, the world’s loudest rock bands top out at 130 decibels.
As technology makes coastal and marine areas more accessible to tourists both physically and economically, increased boat traffic is also adding its own din to the noise that’s polluting the ocean.
Global climate change is also changing the native habitats of dolphins and porpoises, particularly those found in the Arctic / Sub-Arctic and Antarctic / Sub-Antarctic regions of the world, where warming is having the biggest impacts. Shifting weather patterns and changes in the seasonal patterns of prey species are having significant negative impacts on dolphin and porpoise populations.
This month, we’re partnering with Sea Shepherd Conservation Society to raise awareness about the issues facing dolphins and porpoises. Our goal is to halt population declines in all species, especially the critically endangered vaquita porpoise.
One of the primary reasons we’re supporting Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is because of Operation Milagro V. “Milagro” is the Spanish word for “miracle,” an appropriate name for a rescue mission that is fighting every day to save the critically endangered vaquita porpoise.
Through this mission, Sea Shepherd has removed more fishing gear in the last year than they have in all previous years combined. If not for their presence in the Sea of Cortez, the vaquita may have already disappeared.
By purchasing a Limited Edition Dolphin Bracelet, you’ll remove one pound of trash from the ocean and coastlines. You’ll also support Sea Shepherd’s direct-action tactics to save the vaquita, expose and confront illegal poaching activities on the high seas, and safeguard biodiversity and ensure the survival of species for future generations.
In partnership with