August 1, 2023
August 1, 2023
Dive into the fascinating world of Dolphins and discover how they’re impacted by plastic pollution
Dolphins delight us with their playful antics and warm our hearts with their friendly faces. Renowned for their high intelligence and sociable nature, dolphins have captivated human hearts for centuries. Despite being so well loved, dolphins face a variety of threats—most of them human. And sadly, their populations are declining globally with one in four species threatened with extinction.
Fun facts about dolphins
- Global citizens: Dolphins inhabit oceans all over the world and can be found in both salt and fresh water in warm and cold environments from coastal regions to the open ocean.
- Marine mammals: Dolphins are not fish; they are mammals. Like whales and porpoises, they breathe air and nurse their young with milk produced by mammary glands.
- Dig the diversity: There are about 40 different species of dolphins, ranging from the iconic bottlenose dolphin to the acrobatic spinner dolphin and the sleek orca, also called killer whales.
- Social butterflies: Dolphins are highly social creatures, living in groups called pods. These pods can range from a few individuals to hundreds, and they often display complex social behaviors and communication.
- Super brains: Dolphins have large, highly developed brains and are known for their intelligence and problem-solving abilities, which have been compared to those of great apes and even humans.
- Playful personalities: Dolphins are known for their playful nature, often engaging in activities like riding waves, playing with objects, and interacting with humans or other marine animals in a seemingly joyful manner. Some possess impressive acrobatic skills and are capable of leaping high into the air or performing flips and spins.
- Sleep with one eye open: Dolphins are conscious breathers, which means they need to actively think about coming up to the surface to breathe. To ensure they don't suffocate while sleeping, only one hemisphere of their brain sleeps at a time while the other remains active to control breathing and keep them alert to potential dangers.
- Deep divers: Some dolphin species, like the orca or killer whale, are incredible deep divers, capable of reaching depths of up to 3,280 feet (1,000 meters) in search of prey.
- Sonar masters: Dolphins use echolocation, emitting clicks and listening for the echoes to navigate and locate prey. This biological sonar system allows them to "see" underwater, even in dark or murky conditions.
- Live long and prosper: Dolphins have relatively long lifespans, with some species living for several decades. Bottlenose dolphins, for example, can live up to 40-50 years in the wild, and in captivity, they can sometimes live even longer.
Ecological importance of dolphins
Dolphins play a vital role in maintaining the balance of the marine ecosystem. Here's why they are so important:
- Indicator species: Dolphins act as an indicator species, reflecting the overall health of the marine environment. Monitoring their populations and behavior helps scientists assess the condition of our oceans.
- Predators: As top predators, dolphins regulate the abundance of their prey, thus controlling population sizes of various fish species. This keeps the marine food web in check and ensures the sustainability of the ecosystem.
- Nutrient cycling: Dolphins contribute to nutrient cycling by consuming fish and other marine organisms. Their waste products provide vital nutrients to the ecosystem, enhancing productivity and benefiting other marine species.
Dolphin conservation status
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) assesses the conservation status of species worldwide. Different species face different levels of threat. Here are just a few examples.
- Vulnerable: The Irrawaddy dolphin and the Ganges River dolphin are classified as vulnerable due to habitat loss, entanglement in fishing gear, and pollution.
- Endangered: The Maui dolphin and the Hector's dolphin, both endemic to New Zealand, are endangered primarily due to fishing-related activities and habitat degradation.
- Critically Endangered: The Yangtze River dolphin, or baiji, is a freshwater dolphin that hasn’t been seen in over 20 years; the last confirmed living baiji died in 2002. And while technically a porpoise, not a dolphin, the vaquita lives only in the Gulf of California and, with only a few dozen individuals remaining, the species faces extreme threats from illegal fishing practices and entanglement in fishing nets.
How plastic pollution impacts dolphins
Dolphins are severely impacted by plastic pollution, which has devastating effects on their well-being and survival.
- Entanglement: Dolphins often become entangled in discarded fishing gear, such as nets and lines. This can cause injuries, amputations, and even death.
- Ingestion: Mistaking plastic debris for prey, dolphins may accidentally ingest it. This can lead to internal injuries, digestive issues, and even blockages, which can be fatal.
- Chemical contamination: Plastics can accumulate harmful chemicals from the marine environment. When dolphins consume contaminated prey, they risk ingesting these toxins, which can impact their immune system, reproductive health, and overall fitness.
Other threats to dolphins
- Climate change: Dolphins are impacted by changes in ocean temperature, sea level rise, and altered prey distribution due to climate change, which can disrupt their natural habitats and food sources.
- Ocean acidification: The absorption of excess carbon dioxide by the oceans leads to ocean acidification, which can harm the health of marine life, including dolphins and their prey.
- Overfishing: Overfishing reduces the availability of prey species for dolphins, impacting their food supply and potentially leading to malnutrition or starvation.
- Bycatch: Dolphins often get accidentally caught in fishing gear meant for other species, leading to injury or death. This bycatch is a significant threat to many dolphin populations worldwide.
- Habitat destruction: Human activities like coastal development, pollution, and dredging can destroy or degrade dolphin habitats, reducing available resources and increasing the risk of conflicts with humans.
- Noise pollution: Underwater noise from various human activities, such as shipping, construction, and naval exercises, can disrupt dolphin communication, navigation, and hunting behaviors, causing stress and confusion.
- Captivity: Keeping dolphins in captivity for entertainment purposes, such as in marine parks and dolphinariums, can lead to physical and psychological harm. Captive dolphins may suffer from stress, illness, and shortened lifespans.
- Boat collisions: Increased boat traffic in dolphin habitats raises the risk of collisions, causing injuries or death to these marine mammals.
What you can do to help protect dolphins and their habitats
- Support marine conservation organizations: Donate your time, money, or supplies to reputable organizations that focus on dolphin conservation. There are many groups working hard every day to research, protect, and advocate for the well-being of these beloved marine mammals.
- Practice responsible dolphin watching: If you're engaging in dolphin watching tours or activities, choose reputable operators who follow responsible guidelines to minimize disturbance to the dolphins and their environment.
- Reduce your plastic footprint: Avoid single-use plastics and limit the amount of plastic you use. By acting as a conscious and concerned consumer, you’ll help create demand for reusable and sustainable alternatives to plastics, which will help encourage big brands and businesses to operate and innovate more sustainably.
- Properly dispose of waste: Following your local recycling and trash disposal guidelines helps prevent pollutants and garbage from entering the environment and harming your local ecosystem. This matters whether you live 10 feet or 10,000 miles from the coast.
- Support sustainable seafood: Choose seafood from sustainable fisheries to reduce the demand for overfishing practices that impact dolphin populations indirectly through bycatch.
- Be a responsible boater: When boating, maintain a safe distance from dolphins and other marine wildlife, and adhere to speed limits in areas known to be frequented by dolphins to minimize the risk of collisions.
- Participate in beach cleanups: Join or organize beach cleanup events to remove litter and debris from your local environment, which will prevent it from entering the ocean and endangering marine life.
- Advocate for Marine Protected Areas: Support the establishment and expansion of marine protected areas (MPAs) that provide safe havens for dolphins and other marine species to recover and thrive.
- Report stranded or injured dolphins: If you encounter stranded or injured dolphins, report it to local authorities or marine mammal rescue organizations, who can provide assistance and care.
- Educate others: Share this article to help raise awareness about plastic pollution and its impact on marine life or snag our limited edition Dolphin Bracelet and use it to start conversations that encourage others to get involved in the clean ocean movement.
Remember, every small action counts, and collective efforts can make a significant positive impact on the well-being of dolphins and the health of our oceans.