About Me

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Saint Augustine, FL
The purpose of this blog is to update stories from The Voice of the Dolphins and to tell some of the amazing stories that did not make it into the book. Please visit our website www.hardyjonesdolphins.com

Friday, August 23, 2013

My First Dolphin Mass Mortality Event

By Hardy Jones

During the summer of 2013 we have had mass mortality events of dolphins along three coasts of the United States and the St. Lawrence River in Canada. For some background here is a portion of a chapter from my book, The Voice of the Dolphins.

Currently, August 2013, more than 200 dolphins have died in or near New Jersey. My coverage of the dolphin MME in 1987 began in New Jersey.
A New York Times article headed “Search Widening for Clues in Puzzle of Mounting Dolphin Deaths” reported that some one hundred dolphins had been found dead along the shores of New Jersey and the die-off was moving farther south. An increasing number of dolphins were being found stranded in Virginia, all of them with bronchial pneumonia, and virtually all of them dead. The article noted that hundreds of dolphins had almost certainly died in deep water and would never be counted. There was real panic along the Jersey shore. In the absence of reliable information, hypotheses blossomed among the citizens of beach towns. Was this a form of dolphin AIDS? Had deadly toxins escaped from a military facility nearby?
My film on whales was followed by a contract to do a one-hour special on dolphins, again for Audubon on Turner Broadcasting. I was to cover the wonders of dolphins in the wild but executive producer Chris Palmer told me in no uncertain terms that there was also a strong mandate from Ted Turner to hit conservation issues hard. The film, which was eventually titled If Dolphins Could Talk, gave me a chance to investigate the die-off. I flew to New Jersey.
As I began to look into this unfolding tragedy, I remembered visiting Atlantic City, a glorious stretch of beach, as a very young boy. The memory still evoked the smell of Coppertone and salt air. At that time and through the early encounters with the dolphins in the Bahamas the ocean remained a place of joy and innocence. Now, it appeared paradise might be slipping away.
The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) calls such die-offs “unusual mortality events,” or UMEs. This UME had first been detected by Bob Schoelkopf of the Brigantine Marine Mammal Stranding Network as early as April. Dolphins were washing ashore and beachgoers reported their eyes were stinging. Some even reported nausea. No one knew whether there was a connection to the dolphin deaths.
As May turned into June, the numbers of dead dolphins washing up on beaches had increased to the point that Schoelkopf called federal authorities. It was the beginning of a medical mystery with ramifications of the highest importance for dolphins and humans alike. While dolphins and small whales strand for a variety of reasons, nothing of this magnitude had ever been reported. The event was telling us something about the health of the oceans, and it was crucial we find out what the message was.
When it became clear that the dead dolphins on beaches were not isolated events, an interagency governmental task force was formed. Representatives from agencies such as the NMFS and state and local health departments swarmed the beaches looking for evidence.
Dr. Joseph Geraci, the man chosen to head the task force, known as the dolphin response team, was a well-known and highly respected marine pathologist from the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. As the UME progressed, Dr. Geraci came under tremendous pressure to find what was killing the dolphins.
But few of the dead dolphins could be necropsied due to decomposition. Where necropsy was possible high levels of contaminants such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were found. So every cadaver recovered had to be treated as toxic waste and disposed of by a HazMat team. By August, dolphins were stranding on Virginia beaches and the total number of confirmed dead had reached six hundred.
When I interviewed Bob Schoelkopf at the Marine Mammal Stranding Center, he told me, “We may be losing the entire near-shore population of bottlenose dolphins along our Atlantic Coast.” He listed their symptoms. All the dolphins had fluid in their chests, stomachs, and lungs. Most were emaciated, indicating that they hadn’t eaten in days, or even weeks. In addition, their mouths were lacerated, and on some, their skin was peeling. “All their internal organs were pathologic, with enlarged spleens and other abnormalities,” he said. Tissue samples from the Virginia dolphins were sent to the National Veterinary Service Laboratories in Ames, Iowa, one of the country’s leading facilities for studying animal pathology. As summer dissolved into fall and the die-off spread southward, no diagnosis was forthcoming.
To me, the die-off was an utterly horrifying experience. I imagined individual dolphins like Didi and Chopper first feeling that something was wrong, then growing sicker and more vulnerable to shark attack and finally dying in agony. And as stranded dolphins were found on beaches of the southeastern United States, I was haunted by the idea that the lethal agent might leap the Gulf Stream and infect the spotted dolphins I knew and loved in the Bahamas.
After completion of If Dolphins Could Talk, I continued my investigation of the UME, financed by a grant from the Center for Marine Conservation. During that inquiry, some very peculiar things happened.
I flew from California to New Jersey and drove along the eastern seaboard. During the fall of 1987, a top vet from the National Veterinary Service (NVS) pulled me aside at one of the many public meetings held in coastal communities to try to allay the fears of coastal dwelling humans. “I will only speak to you on the absolute condition that you do not associate my name with what I’m about to tell you,” he began.
I agreed but wondered why all the secrecy.
“What’s going on involves the fact that these dolphins are loaded with chemicals such as PCBs, pesticides, and other contaminants. The way these chemicals work is that they bio-accumulate up the marine food chain, and because they’re lipophilic [easily absorbable by fat] they can build to very high levels in dolphins, whales, and other marine mammals.”
The absolute levels of contamination in the water column are very low and safe, he went on to tell me. “The chemical companies that dump these contaminants think that by diluting the poisons they render them effectively harmless.” What they didn’t count on was the reverse process taking place as these chemicals are biomagnified up the food chain. The chemicals are absorbed by plankton that are eaten by tiny fish, which are then eaten by small fish, then larger fish, and ultimately by dolphins and humans. “By the time they reach apex predators—including us—they’re literally concentrated by factors of billions,” he said, his face contorted by the thought. The chemical companies’ theory of “dilution is the solution” did not contemplate the unfathomable ways of nature.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Dolphins Dieing of Very UNnatural Causes in Peru

By Hardy Jones

     Dolphins are again dieing on the northern coast of Peru. While reports have raised concern for another mass mortality event (MME) duplicating the one in 2012, the death of ten dolphins over the course of two weeks with no follow-on reports of high rates of stranding does not represent an MME. Dolphins, of course, do die from natural causes.
     But thousands of dolphins are dieing from highly UNnatural causes in Peru. Surveys commissioned by BlueVoice and carried out by BlueVoice and Organización Científica para la Conservación de Animales Acuáticos ORCA from December 2012 through February 2013 document a mass slaughter of dolphins for human consumption by fishermen along a large part of the Peruvian coast. This slaughter may cause the death of more dolphins than the infamous drive hunts at Taiji, Japan, portrayed in my films for PBS and National Geographic and by the academy award winning feature film, "The Cove".

     Dr. Carlos Yaipen Llanos, president of ORCA, and I conducted surveys in the area of San Jose, a coastal village on the northern coast of Peru.  An ORCA team later surveyed villages south of Lima. We found numerous cadavers of dolphins on beaches with clear indications they had been killed then butchered.

     Fishermen told us that dolphin hunting is common and takes place at dawn and dusk. Based on interviews with fishermen, Dr. Yaipen Llanos confirmed that butchering often takes place at sea and meat is delivered to shore in plastic bags or boxes.

     In the village of Bujama local people approached the ORCA team in a state of dismay, saying "flipper has being killed!"  "We were as shocked, as everyone else in the beach", said Dr. Yaipen Llanos. After viewing the body he reported "We found this dolphin right after it was slaughtered, after dusk, around 8pm. We found the dolphin (had) been collected, assassinated and slaughtered specifically for meat extraction and human consumption."

                   Bottlenose dolphin killed for food south of Lima © ORCA/BlueVoice

     It turns out the hunting of dolphins in Peru is nothing new. It's been going on for decades. Photos going back thirty years show dolphins pulled from the waters off the famous surfing venue of Cerro Azul, just south of Lima. I remember one of the great thrills of my life -had been surfing with dolphins at Cerro Azul during my Peace Corps days in the late 1960s.

     According to a paper by Stefan Austermuhle, Executive Director of the Peruvian marine conservation group Mundo Azul (Blue World), during the 1980s and 90s between 15,000 - 20,000 dolphins were killed annually. In 1995 a law was passed prohibiting the practice and numbers of dolphins killed declined dramatically. But the take today is still in the thousands.

     While it's illegal to hunt dolphins in Peru there is virtually no enforcement. And recent changes in the law make it legal to take dolphins "accidentally" when they're caught in nets and drowned. And under this law phony accidents most certainly will happen.

     Dr Yaipen-Llanos reports that, according to local fishermen, small fishing boats hunting dolphins follow pods mainly at dusk and dawn. The dolphins are caught using nets thrown from caballitos de tortora (small boats constructed from reeds) and then harpooned while still in the net. This is consistent with reports by Mundo Azul in 2003 that "the fishermen encircle whole dolphin schools with nets, catch them with harpoons, lift them aboard and kill them by clubbing them to death".

     We learned that in addition to using nets, the fishermen disperse insecticide and oil to kill sea lions and dolphins. The price of dolphin meat can be as little as five Peruvian soles per kilo - about one dollar per pound, making it a very cheap source of protein for poor people. There seems to be no concept among fishermen and consumers that eating meat from an animal that was killed with poison is not a healthy practice.

     In December 2012 I joined Dr. Yaipen Llanos in visiting San Jose Mayor Victor Paiva in his municipal office. He openly admitted to eating dolphin meat himself and asked nine other municipal workers if they ate it. All replied that they did. Dr. Yaipen-Llanos asked a woman on the street of San Jose (population 7434) how much dolphin meat was eaten in the village. She replied "the village subsists almost entirely on dolphin meat".

     Having been a Peace Corps volunteer in Peru, I am well aware of the poverty and lack of education confronting a large number of Peruvians. I revere dolphins and abhor the act of hunting them but would face something of a dilemma if poor, hungry people hunted dolphins that were safe to eat. While levels of contamination in dolphins does vary from place to place, both organic and heavy metal contamination are distributed on currents throughout the ocean ecosystem. Dolphins are at the height of the marine food chain and bio-accumulate these toxins to high levels of concentration. Our tests on the hair of Mayor Paiva of San Jose showed he had mercury levels more than twelve times higher than the "safe" level recommended by the U.S. EPA. We were unable to test for organic pollutants due to lack of facilities in Peru.

     Peru is by no means the only place where fishermen hunt dolphins for food and/or bait to catch sharks. Recent reports from Tanzania document substantial hunting of dolphins to be used to bait sharks which are then finned. Shark fins are considered a delicacy both locally and in Asian markets and bring a lucrative return.

     In the West Indies pilot whales and other on a regular basis and meat can be purchased, among other places, in the market at Castries on Dominica.

     In a comprehensive paper published in 2011 Robards and Reeves concluded "It is now clear that human consumption of marine mammals is geographically widespread, taxonomically diverse, and often of uncertain sustainability. Since 1990, people in at least 114 countries have consumed one or more of at least 87 marine mammal species."

     In many places these hunts are not sustainable. Marine mammals do not reproduce rapidly and use of their bodies to perpetrate such egregious practices as shark fining could extirpate populations of dolphins and other marine mammals in many locations. The current situation demands further research into the reason for the increase in hunting dolphins and other marine mammals as bush meat. More than that, it demands cooperation through international agencies to end the practice of using large-brained mammals for food and bait.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Toxics and Blood Cancer, a Diabetes Link?

Thursday, January 31, 2013
This blog was written on the site of the International Myeloma Foundation in response to a posting by the eminent Myeloma authority Dr. Brian Durie.

By Hardy Jones 

I was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma in 2003. In 1997 I had been diagnosed with chronic mercury poisoning attributed to a diet high in tuna and swordfish - large predatory fish known to carry high levels of heavy metals and organic pollutants.

In 2005 I was tested for organic pollutants such as those derived from agent orange, benzine, DDT, flame retardants etc. I was found to be quite high in some of the congeners. The story is best told in my book, The Voice of the Dolphins, but is also covered on the Bluevoice web site.

I would say (in response to Dr. Durie's intention to test 911 victims) the sooner the better on testing 9/11 victims. Even though it’s slow, POPs (persistent organic pollutants) do break down and diminish. Also, if a person loses weight they will mobilize POPs, which are lipophilic, and excrete them.

When I asked toxics expert Arlene Blum about my POPs levels she said “Oh, too bad you didn’t get tested when you were still eating lots of tuna etc. because your values would now be only a shadow of what they may have been.” I had stopped eating large predatory fish in 1997 after being found to have high mercury levels. My test for POPs was run in 2005. I’m thinking of having myself tested again - 7 years after the last test but the tests are expensive.

I’ve just heard from a top marine mammal toxicologist that there is likely a correlation between levels of mercury and other heavy metals and POPs. There are confounding problems but as a general rule this analogy works.

I will be getting test results from Peruvian dolphin-eating fishermen by Feb. 21. Our tests for mercury etc. should/could be a proxy for POPs. These fishermen have epidemic incidence of diabetes which Dr. Durie has tied to MM incidence.

It's great the IMF is doing this work. Prevention Multiple Myeloma and other cancers is better than suppressing disease with drugs, even though these drugs have been a godsend to me. I would be happy to receive information from people who eat a lot of high food chain predatory fish who have MM.


Thursday, June 14, 2012

Hardy Nominated As Ocean Hero

We are working to nominate Hardy for the Ocean Heroes award.
If you can take a minute to also nominate him that would be great.



Here's the info/link:

Go to https://www.facebook.com/oceana/app_425004930866752

Fill out nominees info: Hardy Jones, hardyjones@bluevoice.org, 68 years old, http://www.bluevoice.org <http://www.bluevoice.org/>

Then just fill in the large white box with your brief thoughts about why he is so worthy of this recognition. : )

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Findings in Dolphin Mortality Event in Peru

By Hardy Jones

I've just spoken with Dr. Carlos Yaipen Llanos in Lima. He has found no evidence of virus or disease such as brucellosis in the dolphins stranded along the coast of northern Peru. He has found indications of internal trauma including indications of rapid ascent. But he emphasized he did not know the cause of this. Many have blamed seismic testing by oil companies but the UME began before the oil companies began testing in 2012. I'm awaiting a full report from him.

Happier news is that the Peruvian Congress summoned Carlos to testify and they were highly alarmed and indicated they would take strong action against deliberate killing of dolphins for food. They are looking at other measures to protect dolphins in Peruvian waters.

 Hardy Jones of BlueVoice.org and Dr. Carlos Yaipen Llanos with dead baby dolphin

It is becoming clear that the pelican mortality is due to starvation probably linked to the el nino/la nina cycle.

More shortly.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Dolphin Mortality in Peru - 2nd Trip

Hardy and Carlos by Dead Baby Dolphin

Tuesday, April 10. We arrive to the stranding site, as I told you before,
on Tuesday, next with my assistant, a Environmental Police officer and
driver. We closed a successfull day collecting 10 periotic bones from
dolphins, blubber samples from new dolphin strandings that were
viable and a fresh baby porpoise for histology analysis collected at
the very end of they. We surveyed 50 Km only, planning to return the
next day. It took us 8 hours in the road since removing periotic bones
is a very delicate process, as Hardy knows from experience. We counted
a dozen new dead dolphins dead a week ago getting stranded by the

Monday, April 9, 2012

Conclusion as to Cause of Dolphin Mortality East Coast USA

During the late 1980s a massive die-off of bottlenose dolphins took place first in New Jersey and moved along the entire eastern seaboard, ending finally at Cape Canaveral. Hundreds of dead dolphins were found, many others were never counted. Below is the conclusion of the multidisciplinary committee that investigated this dreadful event.

My book contains the entire story, politics, bureaucracy and unanswered questions.

The process of reviewing evidence and getting it peer-reviewed takes time. In September 1994, I received a report of the conclusions of the interagency team that had gathered in Beaufort, North Carolina, with additional experts to bring together all information produced by investigations into the die-off. The report concluded, “The results for the beach-cast specimens (dead dolphins) obviously reflect the levels of contaminants in the nearshore environment where the dolphins accumulate these substances.” 
But no definitive answer was ever found.