Dead dolphin found with puncture wound to head

A dolphin with a puncture wound to the head was found dead and stranded on Hoadedhdhoo Island in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll yesterday morning (July 17).

In the early morning hours of Tuesday a Hoadedhdhoo resident discovered the dead dolphin on the west side of the island – which faces away from the interior of the atoll towards the open sea.

The dolphin showed no signs of life, but had sustained a visible puncture wound which was bleeding onto the hard, flat coral that surrounds the island like a buffer.

“I think fishing boat people injured it because its head was bleeding. The dolphin looked like its head had a puncture from a fishing hook,” a Hoadedhdhoo government official told Minivan News today (July 17) on condition of anonymity.

This incident could be a potential issue for the Maldives’ fishing industry, which is known for its environmentally sustainable pole and line method, where no nets are allowed, preventing bycatch which makes it ‘dolphin safe’.

The source said he believed the dolphin must have died recently because there was no foul odor coming from the body at the time it was discovered.

A white object in the dolphin’s mouth was a piece of coral probably put there by small children that had been playing near the body, the source explained.

The source noted that “not a lot” of fishing boats are seen off the coast of Hoadedhdhoo. However, large pods of dolphins have been observed in the channel slightly north of Hoadedhdhoo.

About five or six years ago a small dolphin was found dead on the same side of the island, however it did not appear to have sustained any injuries, another Hoadedhdhoo resident told Minivan News on condition of anonymity.

Dolphins essential for Maldives’ ecosystem

Following the reported incident, Minivan News contacted the Maldives Marine Research Centre (MRC) to determine the species and age of the dead dolphin.

“From the characteristics of its body shape and erect dorsal fin, it appears to be a common spinner dolphin (Stenella longirostris). They can be easily identified by a long slender beak with a black tip and black lips, while their bodies are mainly grey with three toned coloration,” MRC Assistant Research Officer Mariam Shidha told Minivan News today.

While it was difficult to determine the exact size of the deceased dolphin based on the photographs, it is “most likely to be an adult”, since adults range between 1.8 – 2.1 meters in size, while they mature at the size of 1.5 – 1.7 meters, explained Shidha.

“Dolphins are important to our ecosystem because they are apex (top level) predators which control the populations of fishes and squids to keep it all balanced,” Shidha emphasised.

She explained that stranding of cetacean species – a such as whales, dolphins, and porpoises – “do not happen that often” in Maldivian waters; at most two to three per year are reported.

“[Moreover,] in the Maldives its a very rare thing for a dolphin to be injured by a fishermen since they are not a bycatch of pole and line fisheries,” she said. “However, in the Pacific Ocean, fishermen sometimes purposefully catch dolphins as they use other [unsustainable] fishing methods in order to get to the yellowfin tunas that swim underneath dolphins.”

“The MRC has had no reports of such deliberate acts of abuse or harm to dolphins [in the Maldives],” said Shidha. However, any incidents of people harming dolphins or strandings should be reported to the MRC.

All dolphins and whales are protected under the Maldivian Law and almost all the species of dolphins found in Maldivian waters are listed in the IUCN’s red list of threatened species, noted Shidha.

The MRC is working to raise awareness about why dolphins are essential for the environment in the Maldives.

“We are educating the public on the importance of protecting these charismatic fauna which are so important for the functioning of the ecosystem,” emphasised Shidha. “Also we have held a Cetacean Symposium and outreach programs for school children.”

Fisheries Ministry

“When we find a [stranded] dolphin it’s important to know how it happened. However, I don’t know how we can investigate [in this case],” Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Ahmed Shafeeu told Minivan News today.

“The type of pole and line fishing we have [in the Maldives] is done in a way that doesn’t harm dolphins,” said Shafeeu. “We have not had reports of dolphins being caught, it’s very unlikely.”

“Although an accident or something can happen, in that case the dolphin should be released immediately,” he emphasised. “Catching dolphins in any way [intentional or unintentional] is not allowed by law.”

“Sometimes dolphins are found washed up on the shore [of an island]. In those cases the incident should be reported to the local island council,” explained Shafeeu. “[But] there is no specific regulation that requires island councils to report to national offices if an animal is found.”

“However, if there are concerns of malpractice or someone is known to be deliberately hurting an animal, then it should be reported [to the relevant authorities beyond the island level],” he added.

‘Dolphin safe’

Environmentally-friendly, sustainable pole and line fishing allows Maldives’ tuna to be certified as ‘dolphin safe’, enabling it to be sold as a “premium” product for the European and US markets.

The ‘dolphin safe’ certification is provided by the Earth Island Institute (EII), an international non-governmental organisation (NGO).

Earlier this year EII Associate Director Mark Berman explained to Minivan News that EII’s ‘dolphin safe’ policy requires that “no tuna company will deal in sea turtles, sharks, dolphins, whales, or their products. All efforts to minimise bycatch of these species is mandatory”.

A November 3, 2011 EII press statement read, “the Maldives tuna industry has adopted a policy to ensure that no dolphins are ever killed in tuna nets.”

“That Dolphin Safe standard is respected all over the world”, Dolphin Safe program Associate Director Mark Berman told Minivan News at the time. “Major tuna importing nations will not buy tuna from governments that harm dolphins.”

According to the EII website, the companies licensed with the dolphin-safe label must meet the following criteria:

  • No intentional chasing, netting or encirclement of dolphins during an entire tuna fishing trip;
  • No use of drift gill nets to catch tuna;
  • No accidental killing or serious injury to any dolphins during net sets;
  • No mixing of dolphin-safe and dolphin-deadly tuna in individual boat wells (for accidental kill of dolphins), or in processing or storage facilities;
  • Each trip in the Eastern Tropical Pacific Ocean (ETP) by vessels 400 gross tons and above must have an independent observer on board attesting to the compliance with points (1) through (4) above

Thoddoo bolsters schools, sewers and sea walls

President Mohamed Nasheed inaugurated the newly-established sewer systems as well as the revetment of the seawall in Alifu Alifu Thoddoo on Monday, October 17.

The President has also laid the foundation for six new classrooms at Thoddoo Madhurasa. The classrooms are part of a government plan to convert all schools to single session schools.

Commending residents of Thoddoo for their hard work on island development, the President also pointed out that the island sells many local products on the market.

During World Food Day celebrations on Sunday, October 16, the President encouraged the Maldivian people to make greater use of their local natural resources and promote a sustainable economy.


Comment: Premium Fair Trade tuna in the Maldives is a sure bet

In the Alchemist, Paulo Coelho’s young hero, a shepherd, travels great distances in search of a treasure only to find at the end of his adventures that the treasure he seeks is in the very spot where he began.

I am reminded of this parable in considering the Maldives and their fisheries. There you are surrounded by pristine seas, a people moulded by the rhythm of the seas, fed by its bounty over hundreds of years – with amazingly the most sustainable method of tuna fishing in the world.

It is not just sustainable in fishing terms but more importantly in terms of the communities that fish – widely inclusive, fundamentally democratic – this is a treasure buried beneath the sands of your lovely islands.

The problem is that nobody is prepared to pay you properly for this sustainable method. They want to pay you the lowest price possible, determined by an unthinking international market that will never pay the real cost price.

So in line with this situation, more and more voices in the Maldives are urging for the fisheries to become more industrial and supposedly more efficient or modern – bigger boats, purse-seine nets and long lines, all fishing methods that sustainability experts denounce as damaging. This, in a state that wants to be carbon neutral in 10 years time and sells itself to tourists on the basis of discerning luxury and quality!

This at a time when consumers in your big tuna export markets are finally being informed about the true cost of unsustainable fishing – causing quite a stir as well as a hurried rush by major companies and major tuna buyers to start greening their supply base!

The Maldives should be jumping at the chance to now show the world how advanced it is with its ‘backwards’ traditional fishing methods. Marine experts the world over, including Dr Daniel Pauly of the University of British Columbia, are openly stating that artisan fisheries are the only sustainable future – not just ecologically but even financially because they do not depend on cheap oil and endless subsidy.

The action plan in the Maldives should be to advertise how different your fishing is and work out a way to get a decent return or premium as against the global tuna market price. (It should also be – in line with reducing costs and moving to a zero carbon economy – looking at ways to reduce the fuel usage involved in the Maldives fishing fleet).

So now is the ideal time to start getting the premium you deserve for your tuna. But we’re back to the original problem – markets won’t pay the correct price and it’s almost impossible to get them to do that.

I say almost: the Maldives is in the best possible place right now to start doing this – but nothing happens without a fight. First you need to value the treasure buried beneath your feet: it’s your skills, your knowledge and your history. You don’t need expensive foreign expertise or newfangled infrastructure investment – you’re basically up to speed.

Second you need to outwit the markets. And to do that there is a tool – it is called Fair Trade.

It’s a proven tool – it’s worked time and time again, with producers of primary commodities all around the world. The whole of the Maldives tuna catch could be sold at a definite and fixed premium that is both above the global tuna price and above the cost of operating.

That’s my vision. I’ve done the maths and there’s enough latent demand in fair trade for this to happen right now in the present. Be warned fair trade is no a charity system; it’s an alternative way of trading. If anything it’s how the future of trade should look. Also it’s not a done deal – it will take time.

What’s in it for me? I’m sitting here in an office in the UK. It’s not my sea, it’s not my history – it’s not my resource. But I am totally embedded in the ethical and sustainable business field here in the UK and know from the inside how real ethical alternatives have broken the mould.

I guess I would hope to get some PR for my company and products but my real incentive is campaign-like: it would be wonderful to outwit the whole big company/supermarketing system that dominates the tuna trade and to establish precedent for other artisan fisheries worldwide.

This is what’s at stake. The end buyer, the supermarkets and brands, would not change, nor would the commercial logic of how they buy and sell their tuna. The thing that would change is that the producer at the bottom of the chain would get a fair price – guaranteed.

Fair Trade is about producers co-operating as a co-operative, it’s about a community of people and it’s about business or trade too. A Maldives Fair Trade tuna project can start at a very small scale. It does not need big investment – just the correct organisation structure at the producer level and a Fair Trade approved category (fish products are not yet authorised), audit process and traceability system.

This is not an all-or-nothing gamble. Fair Trade producers can sell also on ordinary market terms. Normally as the market develops more is sold under the fair trade system, and of course the bigger the customer base, the bigger the sale.

What is really needed at this point is an enthusiastic, forward-looking entrepreneurial Maldives fishing producer group that is ready to make it happen! I’m wondering if there’s anybody out there with a spade and a lot of vision?

Charles Redfern is founder of the ethical food company Organico Realfoods and launched the Fish4Ever brand 10 years ago. Fish4Ever is a pioneer brand for sustainability in canned fish and has been the forefront of the recent debate on sustainable fishing in the UK. He can be contacted at [email protected].

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]