All of the dolphins were grotesquely mutilated, with their fins cut off. But the fact that the highly intelligent mammals were brutally killed wasn't what scared researchers, but the sheer number of dolphins killed—in 2019 alone, 1,100 dolphins have washed up on French beaches from the Atlantic ocean.
The deaths are widely attributed to industrial fishing and have shocked animal welfare groups.
“There’s never been a number this high,” member of La Rochelle University’s National Center for Scientific Research Willy Daubin said. “Already in three months, we have beaten last year’s record, which was up from 2017 and even that was the highest in 40 years.”
Though, according to Daubin, 90 percent of fatalities were caused by industrial fishing nets accidentally catching dolphins, the reason for the spike this year remains a mystery.
“What fishing machinery or equipment is behind all these deaths?” Daubin asked.
Autopsies performed by La Rochelle University’s National Center for Scientific Research showed extreme forms of mutilation. Fishermen commonly cut body parts off of suffocated dolphins to save the nets, activists say.
In response, France's ecology minister rushed to draft plans to save dolphins from being killed in the future. One proposed solution is to support research into improving the acoustic repellent devices implemented in 26 trawlers off the Bay of Biscay, an industrial fishing site in the Atlantic. The devices, when activated, emit unpleasant signals that cause nearby dolphins to swim away. But animal rights organization Sea Shepherd has called the measures virtually "useless," claiming that trawlers don't activate the devices in fear that they will scare valuable fish away.