• Animal Care
  • Marine Conservation

Investigating the Causes and Consequences of Dolphin Strandings

Article by GVI


Posted: February 26, 2023

Dolphin strandings, also known as beachings, occur when dolphins become beached on land and are unable to swim off. These rare but concerning events have been reported in oceans around the world, and have attracted much scientific inquiry. Understanding the underlying causes of dolphin strandings, as well as the potential consequences for dolphins, is essential for ensuring the health and wellbeing of dolphins and other marine life. In this article, we explore the numerous factors associated with dolphin strandings and the potential solutions for preventing them.

Examining the Role of Human Activity in Dolphin Strandings

Human activities can have a number of negative impacts on dolphins, particularly when it comes to strandings. These activities include coastal development, illegal fishing practices, pollution, boat strikes and noise pollution. Coastal development can affect dolphin strandings in two ways: firstly, by altering habitats and reducing the availability of suitable coastal areas for dolphins to live in; secondly, by reducing connectivity between the coast and offshore areas, making it harder for dolphins to find their way back to open water when they become stranded. Illegal fishing practices can also interfere with dolphin habitats, leading to strandings. Pollution can reduce oxygen levels in coastal waters, as well as irritating dolphins’ skin and eyes which can affect their ability to swim properly and maintain balance, which in turn can lead to strandings. Similarly, noise pollution from boats can disorientate dolphins and make it more difficult for them to communicate with one another. Lastly, boat strikes are a major issue. Dolphins are highly inquisitive animals, and can inadvertently swim into the path of oncoming boats, leading to strandings.

Assessing the Impact of Climate Change on Dolphin Strandings

Climate change is another major factor that can influence dolphin strandings. As global average temperatures rise, sea levels are rising at an alarming rate – with some estimates suggesting sea levels could rise by as much as two metres by 2100. This will cause large amounts of coastal habitat to be flooded, forcing dolphins from their natural habitats and increasing the risk of strandings. Furthermore, rising temperatures can cause local reefs to bleach, which can further reduce available habitat for dolphins and other marine animals. It is thought that climate change may also contribute to an increase in ocean acidification, which can decrease oxygen levels in the water and make it more difficult for dolphins to breathe.

Understanding the Physiological Effects of Stranding on Dolphins

Strandings can have severe physiological effects on dolphins. Beached dolphins are exposed to extreme temperatures and can quickly become dehydrated. Prolonged exposure to dry land can also lead to muscle atrophy due to disuse. Additionally, stranded dolphins can become distressed which can exacerbate the other physiological impacts of stranding. Stranded dolphins are also more likely to be preyed upon by land-based predators that they would not encounter in the ocean, such as birds of prey.

Exploring Potential Solutions to Dolphin Strandings

There are a number of strategies that can be used to prevent and reduce the number of dolphin strandings. Firstly, coastal development needs to be strictly regulated to ensure that habitats and migration routes for dolphins are not destroyed or restricted. Additionally, strict enforcement of fishing regulations is needed to curb illegal fishing practices that can damage habitats and disrupt migration patterns. Education initiatives are also needed to ensure boat owners are mindful of their speed when travelling through areas with a high concentration of dolphins and other marine animals. In addition, authorities may issue speed limits in such areas or adopt other measures such as the use of acoustic deterrent devices, which emit sound at certain frequencies that discourage dolphins from entering areas with high boat traffic.

Examining the Economic Impact of Dolphin Strandings

Dolphin strandings can have a significant economic impact as they can put a strain on resources such as human volunteers needed to help transport stranded dolphins back to open water or rescue them from beaches. The cost associated with supporting anti-stranding efforts out of pocket or through donations can be significant – with some efforts running into hundreds of thousands of dollars – with the vast majority funded by non-profit organisations.

Examining the Social Implications of Dolphin Strandings

Beyond the economic costs, dolphin strandings can have a significant social and cultural impact on coastal communities. When stranded individuals or groups of dolphins die or suffer from extreme stress due to their ordeal, members of the community are often affected by these tragic events that sometimes involve calves becoming separated from their mothers or entire families washing up on shore. Moreover, the presence of beached dolphins can sometimes create a sense of unease within communities. In order to reduce this disruption and distress, some communities have established “dolphin watch” programs where members of the public are trained in spotting stranded dolphins and notified of possible sightings – enabling proper rescue efforts while minimising disruption and distress in the community.

Investigating Conservation Strategies for Dolphins

Various strategies have been employed to reduce dolphin strandings and protect those already affected. For instance, satellite tracking technology is used to monitor vulnerable populations and gain insights into their behaviour; while thermal imaging technology is used to spot stranded dolphins before they dry out or suffer from heat exhaustion. The creation of artificial lagoons or refuges – areas along the coastline where water is deeper and currents milder – provide areas where stranding events may be less likely to happen. Additionally, volunteers have been trained to properly handle and transport stranded dolphins back into open water without causing further distress or harm to the animal.

Evaluating Current Research and Data on Dolphin Strandings

Current research into dolphin stranding is still limited – many questions remain unanswered due to a lack of accurate data on population dynamics and behaviour in different oceanic environments before, during, and after strandings take place. This lack of data makes it difficult to develop effective conservation strategies or accurately identify short-term and long-term effects of strandings on individual populations. To better facilitate further research into this field, increased funding is needed for tracking equipment and sample collection resources so as to gain better insights into stranding-linked cause-and-effect relationships between human activity and population behaviour in different areas throughout the world’s oceans.

Volunteering with GVI in Tenerife offers a unique opportunity to work with dolphins and make a difference in marine conservation. Volunteers can assist with research and conservation efforts and contribute to monitoring dolphin populations, studying their habitat and migration patterns, and raising awareness about the threats facing these intelligent marine mammals.

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