Goodbye Flipper?

Rick O'Perry, right, and another dolphin trainer with Flipper

Flipper, an Atlantic bottle-nosed dolphin, was one of the biggest television stars from 1964 – 1967. There were actually 4 dolphins who played Flipper on the screen.  Most of the series was filmed behind the scenes at the Miami Seaquarium on Virginia Key in Biscayne Bay.  The success of the Flipper franchise made dolphins a lovable species around the world.  The true story of Flipper, the dolphin and the making of the television series, is told by Ric O’Barry, Flipper’s trainer, in his book Behind The Dolphin Smile.  For those of you who were born after the 1960s, you may have seen dolphins in captivity at marine parks or even had the opportunity to swim with dolphins at one of these attractions. (NOTE:  I do not support dolphins in captivity)

Due in large part to people’s exposure to Flipper or dolphins in captive environments, there has been increased interest in and concern for dolphins around the world.  Since the beginning of this year dolphins worldwide have been stranding themselves and dying in record numbers.  The reasons for these deaths are slow in coming.  Bear in mind that the numbers listed below are like the tip of an iceberg.  Only those dolphins found onshore are listed.  Those who died at sea, whose bodies were never discovered and/or recovered are not included in the mortality/stranding counts.

THE GULF STATES – GULF OF MEXICO – February, 2010 – now

When the first report of the explosion and oil leak of the Deepwater-Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico was announced,  I knew that we were about to witness one of the greatest environmental disasters in the history of the U.S.  It had the potential to outpace the Exxon-Valdez spill off the coast of Alaska – and it did.  In case you never saw the official mortality record from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, their last report from April, 2011 lists the statistics on birds, sea turtles and marine mammals impacted.

Of course, those numbers don’t tell the whole story.  They don’t include unrecovered animals, nor the impact on breeding or toxins passed on to the offspring of the survivors, nor the poisoned food sources available to the survivors.  Please don’t get me wrong.  The people living in the area are exposed to the same toxins, but they, at least, may be treated for the illnesses that result from their exposure.  And, the people aren’t living in the water, surrounded by the oil and corexit, a toxic substance used to disperse the oil.  People also can choose what they will eat, which isn’t the case for the birds, fish, turtles and marine mammals living and swimming in this toxic soup.

Since February of 2010, 693 dolphin deaths have been documented in the Gulf of Mexico.  A good compilation of the news coverage can be found at Reef Relief.

An ongoing die-off of dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico has resulted in 693 carcasses washing ashore. Scientists believe many more dolphins likely died but were never recovered. An investigation is underway to determine whether the BP oil spill is to blame. (Press-Register/Ben Raines)

Many of the dolphins in Barataria Bay, LA are sick, according to researchers.  The AL.com blog has a full story on what researchers have found through taking both blood and tissue samples.

Thirty-two dolphins caught in August in Louisiana’s heavily oiled Barataria Bay were found to suffer from a range of symptoms including anemia, low body weight, hormone deficiencies, liver disease, and lung problems.

Those symptoms are typical of mammals exposed to oil in laboratory experiments, scientists said.

According to the Gulflive.com blog, of the 30 dolphins who washed ashore since January, 2012, 24 have been calves.

“We are dealing with a very unusual mortality,” said Moby Solangi, director of the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport. “It is mostly calves. Generally when you see a stranding it is a variety of animals — adults, males, females, young.”

The second anniversary is approaching and the legacy of this catastrophe mostly lives on with those people, animals and plants along the Gulf Coast who survived.  This story from the one year anniversary has some amazing and heartbreaking photos: http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2011/04/gulf_oil_spill_one_year_later.html   This recent story paints a more current picture of the state of the Gulf Coast.

Laurel didn’t find dead turtles on a recent stroll on her Gulfport shores, which she now calls “death beach.” But walking along she smelled something bad. After poking around in the sand, she found the nauseating source: a dead baby dolphin’s tail, decomposing and buried not more than a few inches in the sand. An out-of-work shrimper came a long and picked it up, and when he realized what it was he started to sob: “This really ruins my day…” Laurel remembers. Tourists looked at it incredulously, Laurel says, their kids screaming, ‘Mommy, it’s a dolphin’s tail!’

The attention of the rest of the country has turned to other news stories, having been  lulled into a false sense that everything has returned to normal by all of those commercials, funded by BP and the states’ tourist boards.  The bodies of the dead and dying animals tell a different story.  But dolphins, in particular, aren’t just dying along the Gulf Coast.

CAPE COD – January – February, 2012

177 dolphins have stranded themselves in Cape Cod.  Once again the cause or causes of the high number of dolphins ending up on the beaches of Cape Cod are simply guesses.  In mid-February, 11 stranded dolphins were found onshore in Wellfleet.

The remote inlet down Wellfleet’s Herring River is a place where the tides recede fast and far, and that’s left the animals mired in a grayish-brown mud one local calls “Wellfleet mayonnaise.”

News coverage of the incident details the stranding and actions taken to save the dolphins.   Sixty dolphins stranded in Cape Cod.  The full story tells that only 19 could be rescued.

A single dead dolphin calf was found in Queens, NY.

Kim Durham, the foundation’s rescue program director, tells the Daily News there were “no signs of trauma.” Researchers say an increasing number of common dolphins have been spotted in the Northeast in the winter, which may be attributable to climate change and a steady improvement in environmental cleanliness in the waters off the Rockaway peninsula.

Although no official cause for the strandings has been announced, there are some who think Naval operations in the area could be to blame.

Again, just as in the months of January and February Naval activity is taking place in the Atlantic. Even government Funded IFAW Katie Moore who has denied Naval involvement despite evidence of Naval activity can no longer deny the possibility of sound being the source of these tragic deaths along the Atlantic Coastline, “

And these deaths may not be the only ones which may be attributable to sonar type activities taking place in the oceans. 

PERU – February – April 2012

To locate possible oil and/or gas deposits, seismic surveys are conducted with the use of air guns by releasing high pressure air.  This passage from the Canadian Centre for Energy Information report was particularly interesting.

Offshore seismic surveys require government approval and must comply with strict environmental regulations, including a pre-survey environmental assessment. Programs are designed to avoid fish spawning seasons and sensitive fishery areas.  During the first half-hour of a survey, the energy level of the discharges is gradually increased so that fish and aquatic mammals have an opportunity to move out of the area.

That paragraph is telling.  The fish and other marine life are given a full half hour to “leave the area.”  Are these people serious?  Any of the marine life in area will understand the increasing sound waves are a signal to vamoose?  Maybe they should try transmitting in Morse Code, it would make as much sense.  Dolphins, like all cetaceans, use echo location to find food, navigate in their habitat and communicate with each other.  Needless to say, these high pressure sound waves can do massive damage to marine life, especially dolphins and whales.  If you are interested in more detailed information on dolphins and the use and effect of sound, check out this lesson plan:  http://www.pac.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/education/documents/porpoise-marsouin/harbourporpoise_lesson4_e.pdf

Of all these recent stranding episodes, the largest die-off is occurring off the coast of Peru.  Over 3000 dead dolphins have washed ashore since the incident began.  Once again, authorities and researchers are cautious about announcing the cause of the massive numbers of dead dolphins.  Some have attributed the deaths to the search for offshore oil deposits in the ocean floor.    More information, along with photos and video on this massive die- off can be found at The Watchers and at SF GateCNTV  and on the blog StrandedNoMore.

For the time being, drilling for oil is a necessary evil.  There are many downsides to onshore drilling, but drilling offshore has far greater along with potentially catastrophic problems.  This Hub Pages blog entry by Cheryl has a comprehensive discussion of offshore drilling.

It seems evident to me that we, humans, are the culprits in the deaths of these magnificent, highly intelligent animals.  Whether through releasing toxins into the environment or sending shockwaves through the ocean, we are killing them.  Why?  OIL – our endless quest to drill for more and more and more oil.  And our tax dollars continue to subsidize this industry, while these oil companies make vast amounts of profit.  Then we get to pay again, at artificially inflated prices, when we pump the resultant gasoline into our vehicles.  We are complicit, intentionally or not.  But Bill McKibben, of 350.org can say it better than I.

Whether or not the bill passes, those subsidies are worth focusing on.  After all, we’re talking at least $10 billion in freebies and, depending on what you count, possibly as much as $40 billion annually in freebie cash for an energy industry already making historic profits.

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9 Comments on “Goodbye Flipper?”

  1. dakinikat says:

    Our news is filled with dolphin deaths; especially baby dolphins. The Gulf Oil Spill is still taking out a lot of our marine life including our precious dolphins.

    • ecocatwoman says:

      Thinking of you in NOLA is what started me thinking of this post. I accidentally stumbled upon the horror happening in Peru.

      • dakinikat says:

        The Audobon Aquarium has been very active in getting the news out on all these dead dolphins. They do the autopsies and rescue any dolphins in distress in our neck of the woods.

  2. bostonboomer says:

    Excellent post, Connie. Thank you for including the Cape Cod die off. This is so heartbreaking. Why are we subsidizing these murderers?

  3. peggysue22 says:

    Heart-wrenching post, ecocatwoman. It’s bad enough what we’re doing to our own species. But we seem intent on taking out massive numbers of the planet’s critters along with us.

    I read an update several weeks ago about the fishermen, shrimpers and oyster men in the Gulf. The sea life is not coming back and the industry itself and those who have depended on the sea for generations are left with nothing. The same is true up in Alaska after the Valdez spill–the natural habitat and sea life has not recovered [despite all the promises made by Big Oil]. And that doesn’t even encompass the health factors of residents and the cleanup crews exposed to the toxins. Over two decades ago.

    The only hopeful report I read recently was about Brazil suing the pants off one of the large oil companies for a spill that was a fraction of the size of the two I mentioned. The Brazilian courts threw the book at them. Maybe somewhere there are rational people waking up.

    I hadn’t read about the Navy’s sonar connection to the dolphin beachings in the NE. But that certainly makes sense

    And yes, I remember Flipper. I seem to recall reading the animal had a sad end after stardom.

    A sad but excellent post!

    • ecocatwoman says:

      Sad all the way around. If only Bible thumping non-believers in the value and connectedness of ALL LIVING THINGS would wake up and realize that what is done to one is done to all. Poison shrimp, clams, birds, fish and so on & they and those they love will be poisoned as well. Of course, many figure all of these catastrophes are merely proof that The End Times are near – hallelujah.

      Flipper died in Ric’s arms. Dolphins are voluntary breathers. Flipper looked in Ric’s eyes, took his last breath and didn’t breath again. Ric has spent the rest of his life trying to end captivity for marine mammals. I and many friends protested at Sea World with Ric when they brought in Tilikum the orca who later kiied the trainer, Dawn Branchoe. Ric is the man behind the movie The Cove, which exposes the bloody slaughter of dolphins in Taiji, Japan each year. Great, great film – Academy Award winner – and well worth seeing. But there are some really tough parts to watch.