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Ukraine’s war : an ecocide for dolphins ?

Ukraine’s war : an ecocide for dolphins ?
  • PublishedJune 15, 2023

During the 20th century, 2 million dolphins lived in the Black Sea. They were threatened by fishing, pollution and bycatch but they remained numerous.

However, in 2020, the dolphin population has collapsed to 250 000 individuals. The population has been divided by 20 since the Russian invasion. Thousand of Black Sea Dolphins have been killed. By May 2022, 1500 dead dolphins had been reported on shore.

Moreover, only a small number of the dead cetaceans washes ashore. The remaining carcasses sink to the bottom of the water. All Black Sea coastal states, such as Ukraine and Turkey, have noticed dead dolphins on their beaches. Research has determined that the 2500 documented strandings are just the tip of the iceberg. It is estimated that between 37,500 and 48,000 animals died in the space of just three months of war.

How is the war in Ukraine affecting marine animals?

Radioactive and chemical pollution caused by missiles is threatening Black Sea wildlife . However the effects will probably not be visible until later. As always in times of war, there are several versions of events. According to Russian scientists, the morbillivirus is to blame. This virus is a common killer of the species.

But the images and dates converge on an explanation that focuses more on the consequences of conflict than disease.

Dolphins die from injuries caused by explosions. They suffer burns or decompression sickness after escaping the blast.

Dolphins also suffer of acoustic trauma. Sonar technologies affect a part of the dolphin’s brain called the melon. This organ plays a major role in communication and echolocation. Military sonars destroy the dolphins’ inner ear and blind them. As a result, they are unable to navigate and hunt. This leads to the disappearance of their very thin layer of blubber. Weakened, they die of starvation, hypothermia, or of disease due to a weakened immune system.

Their sonar communication system, is both a weak point and a much-appreciated tool. In fact, combined with their deep-diving capabilities, this makes dolphins effective underwater detectors. They are said to be more effective than any technological device.

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