Seafood warning after tiny fishing device swallowed by rare 100kg dolphin

Our love of imported fish burgers, snapper, bream and whiting is having a sad impact on marine mammals.

Our love of seafood is having an unimaginable impact on one of the world's most beloved species, dolphins. While countries like the United States and Australia have strict fishing regulations at home, much of their seafood is imported from unregulated foreign waters.

In the North Pacific, commercial vessels with long lines that stretch for kilometres have thinned out available fishing stocks. In the Philippines, island fishermen have been forced to fish further out to sea to feed their families because their traditional grounds have been denuded.

Sadly, a new discovery highlights how this change in fishing behaviour is inadvertently impacting marine mammals in remote parts of the Philippines — a nation Australia imported US$4.86 million ($7.4 million) worth of fish and meat from in 2023.

A close-up image of the tiny fish hook in a hand (inset). A mangrove beach on Samal.
A tiny squid hook killed a 100kg dolphin off the Phillipines island of Samal. Source: D' Bone Collector Museum

Marine conservationist Darrell Blatchley spoke to Yahoo News on Wednesday after performing a necropsy on a rarely seen 100kg dolphin that washed up on a remote beach at the resort island of Samal.

Rough-toothed dolphins are seldom encountered by the islanders because they inhabit deep sea waters. But inside the corpse of an otherwise healthy animal, Blatchley found a tiny homemade fish hook which had caused the animal to die of dehydration.

“The squid hook was blocking the pathway between the first and the second stomach. It had ripped open the lining of the stomach, which is causing it to basically bleed out inside of itself and dehydrate,” he said.

The body of the rough tooth dolphin on the beach at Samal.
Locals discovered the dolphin this week on the island of Samal. Source: D' Bone Collector Museum

The rough-toothed dolphin was the first of its kind that Samal locals had seen wash up on their shores. And Blatchley doesn’t think its discovery is necessarily part of a trend, but rather a signal of humankind’s impact on the natural world.

"It's not the first time we found fishhooks in whales or dolphins," he said. "As humans, every week we're getting more and more in competition with them. And now the fact that a dolphin has died over one squid is very sad."

“There's nothing much that can be done in a country such as the Philippines when the fisherfolk are out there looking for their food, they’re not targeting the species. Unfortunately the dolphin was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Blatchley measures the body of the dead rough tooth dolphin which is on a tarp.
Blatchley completed a necropsy of the dead dolphin and discovered the squid hook inside it. Source: D' Bone Collector Museum

Blatchley warns that as a species, humans have passed a tipping point, and unless we stop and re-evaluate our destruction of the planet there will be little left.

"Look at the bluefin tuna — it's on the verge of extinction. But instead of us saying we're going to stop fishing it altogether, it just becomes more valuable because the demand goes up and we end up paying millions of dollars for a fish" he said.

The most expensive blue fin tuna sold in Japan for for 333.6 million yen ($3.3 million) in 2019. Prices now regularly exceed $1 million, with one selling in 2024 for 114.2 million yen ($1.1 million).

Blatchley performs necropsies to help raise awareness about the impact of plastics and fishing on marine mammals. Originally from the US, Blatchley's D' Bone Collector Museum in the city of Davao in the Philippines educates locals about wild animals with exhibitions featuring skeletons.

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