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Dolphins abandon Bay of Biscay

Marine boffins very concerned

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Most of the dolphins usually spotted in the Bay of Biscay are missing this year, according to researchers at the wildlife conservation charity Marinelife.

The group has been monitoring the whale, dolphin and seabird populations for the last 13 years as part of its Biscay Dolphin Research Programme (BDRP), using the P&O ferry Pride of Bilbao as its research platform. The programme involves monthly surveys and a daily dolphin headcount.

But this summer, sightings of the cetaceans are down by as much as 80 per cent, along the ferry's route. Auks, gannets, and shearwaters are also in short supply. The research groups says populations showed no sign of picking up through August, and is concerned that the decline might be indicative of a bigger problem.

"Whatever the cause of the disappearance of dolphins this summer, it shows both how vulnerable they are and how alarmingly quickly local declines can occur when environmental conditions change," said the group's research director Dr Tom Brereton.

This summer, French and Spanish fishing fleets have been banned from fishing for anchovies, and MarineLife is worried the scant dolphin sightings might indicate a wider reduction in fish stocks due to changes in sea temperatures.

Without wishing to play down the significance of the missing cetaceans, we have a couple of theories of our own. We suspect the dolphins have just gone home, as Douglas Adams predicted, or have been press ganged into US Naval service.

Of course, if they have gone home, that is bad news for the planet, as it suggests that it might be bulldozed to make way for an intergalactic superhighway. Bummer. ®

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