On Tuesday, December 10th, an Alabama shrimp fisherman pled guilty to knowingly shooting a dolphin in the summer of 2012. The commercial shrimper was actively fishing in the Mississippi Sound, when he shot the dolphin with a shotgun. According to the Department of Justice, Brent Buchanan pled guilty to one misdemeanor count of knowingly taking a marine mammal protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, a federal crime for which he faces a maximum of one year in prison, $100,000 in fines, and a $25 special assessment.
While his sentencing will take place on February 24, 2014, this heinous act of violence was just one in a string of dolphin attacks and killings along the Gulf Coast last year. Along with several dolphins discovered with gunshot or stab wounds or severed fins and jaws, one dolphin was found alive and swimming, though impaled through the head with a screwdriver. Sea Shepherd founder Captain Paul Watson personally offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for these gruesome attacks on dolphins.
Most of these cases remain unsolved and are reportedly still under investigation, though it is widely suspected that many of these dolphins also fell victim to fishermen who blame the dolphins for taking “their catch” of fish. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) has expressed concern that dolphins will continue to be harmed, saying “fishermen are becoming increasingly frustrated when dolphins take their bait or catches.”
We have heard this illogical attempt at justification for violence against dolphins before. Each year, approximately 20,000 dolphins and porpoises are killed in Japanese waters, around 2,000 of which are killed in Taiji’s annual hunt. Though we know that the captive dolphin trade fuels and funds the Taiji hunt, the Taiji Fishermen’s Union, along with other dolphin hunters, claims it is because dolphins eat “their fish.” They refer to these amazing animals as “pests” who can be blamed for their declining catches. In Taiji, entire families, or pods, of cetaceans are driven by boats into the shallow waters of the infamous killing Cove, disoriented and frightened by the “wall of sound” created by banging poles. Once netted off, they will either be selected for a life imprisoned in captivity or a violent death.
Japan is not alone. In Peru, thousands of dolphins are being illegally killed and used as shark bait each year. Dolphins are used not only because their meat might be tempting to the sharks, but also because as fish populations decline due to overfishing, the cost of buying fish for bait becomes more expensive. On the Columbia River in WA/OR, Sea Lions are targeted for harassment and death and Cormorants being harassed for eating fish and taking the blame for the decline in the numbers of fish that humans are claiming rights to.
We reacted in shock over the Gulf Coast dolphin killings, and rightfully so. Hopefully the investigations that have followed will lead to some level of justice. But while we care about dolphins harmed here in the United States, what about the dolphins being brutally and senselessly killed elsewhere? Will we not act on those crimes against nature? We tend to think of the earth’s oceans as separate bodies of water, but they are all connected as one ocean, and that ocean connects all life. We have international agencies that are supposed to be providing protections and management, but they are ineffective at best. While there are agreements in place, meant to protect ocean wildlife, these agreements are not always put into action and go unenforced. The time is now for an international agency that will take action and enforce protections for imperiled ocean life and recognize our responsibility for our impact on the oceans.
Is Taiji’s hunt the price that dolphins should pay simply for eating fish that they need to survive? Should sea lions at the Bonneville Dam be captured, branded, and even killed simply for eating salmon? Those are the same salmon, by the way, who humans are fishing, and who are being killed by the dam itself.
The oceans are absolutely being overfished. That is undeniable. There is a deadly predator whose insatiable appetite and greed are depleting the oceans of life. That predator is not a dolphin, a sea lion, or a shark. Through the devastating effects of overfishing, pollution, trash, ship traffic and so many other man-made impacts, humans are taking a bigger toll on ocean wildlife than any other animal, and we are taking more than the oceans can possibly lose.
CALL TO ACTION: On February 24, 2014, Brent Buchanan will stand before Chief Magistrate Judge John M. Roper of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi for sentencing. Please contact Judge Roper, using the contact information below, with a polite request that Buchanan face the maximum penalty for his violent act toward a dolphin.
The Honorable Chief Magistrate Judge John Roper
United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi
2012 15th Street, Suite 870
Gulfport, MS 39501