Four Years Later, Dolphins Still Dying

Friday, 26 Feb, 2021

Sea Shepherd is back on patrol in France’s Bay of Biscay to stop the so-called accidental capture of thousands of dolphins every year by commercial fishing vessels off the Atlantic coast.

Dolphins follow Sea Shepherd's small fast boat, the Viking. Photo by Rodolphe Villevieilee/Sea Shepherd.

This is our fifth Dolphin Bycatch campaign since early 2018, when the crew of Sea Shepherd’s vessel the Bob Barker captured footage of dead dolphins being hauled onboard fishing trawlers. These images were the first to prove the findings published by the Pelagis Scientific Observatory in 2017 that fishing nets were the cause of death for the thousands of small cetaceans found washed up on French beaches.

Scientific evidence shows an average of more than 10,000 dolphins dying each year as “bycatch” due to non-selective fishing methods, or roughly 30 times the normal death rate. These industrial fishing practices, such as pelagic trawling and gillnetting, are still authorized in France despite causing the inevitable and indiscriminate killing of marine mammals, which are protected under European law.

In 2019 and 2020, Sea Shepherd returned to the Bay of Biscay with the Sam Simon to expose the ongoing slaughter through more than 250 nightly and daily patrols in the unforgiving winter weather conditions of the Atlantic Ocean. Despite this evidence, the French Ministry of the Sea failed to take action and dead dolphins continue washing up on French beaches bearing the scars of fishing gear.

In 2019 Sea Shepherd crew captured images of dolphins trapped in the trawler's net. Photo Tara Lambourne/Sea Shepherd.

Operation Dolphin Bycatch 2021

This year, the Sam Simon has returned to the Bay of Biscay to defend the dolphins along with 40 Sea Shepherd on-shore volunteers and three rigid-hull inflatable boats (RHIBs) to patrol the coastline and the fishing activities at sea. In just the first two months of 2021 almost 450 dead dolphins have already been found washed up on the local beaches, twice the number found last year in the same period.

While observing and filming fishing operations from a safe distance, our crew experience threats and intimidation, and are frequently showered with small projectiles (see video here). Despite the increasing tensions with the fishermen, Sea Shepherd will not give up, and remain more than ever determined to protect the dolphins by continuing to show what’s really happening in the Bay of Biscay.

Sea Shepherd crew observing a fishing ship in the Bay of Biscay. Photo Stefano Belacchi/Sea Shepherd.

The French Government’s Reaction

After three years of Sea Shepherd campaigns exposing the French fishing industry’s responsibility for the deaths of thousands of dolphins, on July 2nd, 2020 the Paris Administrative Court found the French State at fault for failing to take timely and effective measures to stop it.

The judge stated that "the French authorities have delayed implementing concrete actions in view of the recurrent episodes of excess cetacean mortality on the Atlantic coast, particularly in the Bay of Biscay, since the 1990s and accentuated since 2016. This delay constitutes a failure by the State to comply with its obligations under European Union law, in particular its obligation to protect cetaceans and control fishing activities. Under those circumstances [...] Sea Shepherd France is entitled to maintain that that failure constitutes a fault of such a nature as to engage the responsibility of the State.” (read the full article here).

On January 14th, 2021 the French Ministry of the Sea published its action plan to fight against the so-called accidental captures of cetaceans in the Atlantic Ocean. This seven-point action plan sounds ambitious, but in reality, most of these commitments already exist under French law (some for almost a decade), and others have already been proven ineffective.

“These measures presented as strong commitments from the Ministry of the Sea are smoke screens,” says Lamya Essemlali of Sea Shepherd France. “Faced with the irresponsibility of our politicians, it is up to us, consumers and voters, to change our eating habits and to vote for people who are up to the current ecological challenges.” (full article and video here)

Sea Shepherd displays dead dolphins found on French beaches in front of the National Assembly building in Paris, February 2021. Photo Sea Shepherd.

It's Time to Act!

Rich in biodiversity, the Bay of Biscay covers an area of 223,000km². Beyond dolphins, the whole marine ecosystem is being damaged by the current fishing methods. More than ever, the French government must act quickly. Dolphins are the whistleblowers of the ocean; if we can’t save them, what hope do we have for other species?

Dolphins in the Bay of Biscay. Photo by Stefano Belacchi/Sea Shepherd.

Together We Can Make a Difference

Your donations help keep Sea Shepherd volunteers and vessels on the frontlines in the Bay of Biscay, but you can also make a difference by changing what you put on your plate. Our growing demand for fish contributes directly to commercial fishing practices that result in overfishing, bycatch casualties of non-target marine wildlife, and degradation of delicate ecosystems.

Learn more about how you can support Operation Dolphin Bycatch:

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