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Dramatic increase of dead harbor porpoises found in the Baltic Sea

Friday, Sep 29, 2017

Sea Shepherd's Baltic Sea Campaign patrol vessel Emanuel Bronner found another dead harbor porpoise last Friday. Over the last couple of weeks and months we have been reporting about the increase of dead harbor porpoises found in the Baltic Sea. Until recently it was assumed that approximately 130 harbor porpoises die in the Baltic Sea each year, despite evidence that suggested that the amount was in fact substantially higher due to large numbers of unreported cases.

The M/V Emanuel Bronner patrolling in the Baltic Sea. Photo by Sea Shepherd.

The crew of the Emanuel Bronner found another dead porpoises during a routine patrol last Friday afternoon. The animal was found floating in the waters between the Danish maritime border and an area which is used for naval drills. The porpoise was recovered by the crew and handed over to the responsible authorities.

This latest find supports the suspicion that the number of dead harbor porpoises found in the Baltic Sea is increasing dramatically.

Based on the latest findings we now have to assume that our fears have turned out to be more than true. According to a report by the Institute for Terrestrial and Aquatic Wildlife Research (ITAW) to the Ministry of Agriculture of Schleswig-Holstein*, the figures for the year 2016 sum up to more than 180 dead animals solely found in parts of the Baltic Sea belonging to the state Schleswig-Holstein.

“This figure only reflects the reported finds”, said Baltic Sea campaign leader Manuel Abraas. “In addition to this we would need to know the exact figures from the state Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Here we also have to consider the unknown number of cases that have not been reported as well. In our view the current situation is even more dramatic than initially assumed”.  The main causes of the high mortality rate are on the other hand clear: noise, pollution and fishing are the main threats for the harbor porpoise; all of these threats are man-made.

“We must also bear in mind that these are only surveys from Germany. We do not have any figures from Poland or Denmark, the data is sometimes not even collected”, added Abraas. “If you look at FFH-areas like Oderbank or Adlergrund east of the island Rügen, we know that trawlers from Poland, for example, are operating in those areas”.

Trawl nets are known to cause massive damages to the seabed, destroying marine life and leaving nothing but a trail of destruction. There are no reports about dead porpoises found in that area and only random checks are carried out.

“These FFH-areas are not even worth the paper they are written on", said Manuel Abraas. “What purpose do they have if they are not helping the marine wildlife and their habitat? This is not going to work out unless effective protection is achieved by establishing regular checks and appropriate fisheries monitoring.”

It is time for the politicians and responsible authorities to act. Does one of the populations of harbor porpoises in the Baltic Sea have to become extinct before immediate measures are taken to ensure the protection of these animals? Or would even this not have any effect at all and everyone would just continue with their daily business? The responsible Minister of Schleswig-Holstein, Dr. Robert Habeck of the German party Alliance '90/The Greens in particular has the duty to act here, because green politics should never exclude animal welfare. 

“Our Baltic Sea campaign is more important than ever shining a spotlight on these serious deficits. After all we owe it to the harbor porpoises", Abraas said.

We demand an immediate, complete ban of gillnets in the Baltic Sea. Germany also needs to team up with the neighbouring countries (Denmark & Poland) to introduce additional effective measures to protect the endangered harbor porpoise.

*(From: University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover, Foundation – May 2017: Monitoring findings of dead small whales and grey seals in  Schleswig-Holstein in 2016; report to the Ministry of Energy, Agriculture, the Environment, Nature and Digitalization of Schleswig-Holstein; Institute for Terrestrial and Aquatic Wildlife Research (ITAW)

A dead endangered harbor porpoise found on last Friday's patrol. Photo by Sea Shepherd.
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