A total of 91 dead dolphins were found on the beaches of Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast in the summer of 2016, according to regional environmental inspectorates.
This figure, as of July 19, is higher than the total of 90 dead dolphins found on the country’s coast in 2015.
There have been repeated cases and subsequent media reports in recent years of dolphins being found dead on Bulgarian beaches. Despite repeated allegations, often pointed at fishermen, no cause of death has been conclusively established.
A joint Bulgarian-Romanian investigation is underway after the discovery of dead dolphins that horrified tourists on Black Sea beaches, according to a Bulgarian national television report.
The discoveries took place from the northernmost points to the southernmost points of the Bulgarian coast.
In some cases, the appearance of dead dolphins suggested they had been slashed, and possibly even stripped of meat.
Atanas Roussev of the Save Coral movement said the deaths appeared to have taken place somewhere in Bulgarian waters.
Razvan Popescu, president of the Oceanographic Science Club – Romania, said dead dolphins have also washed up on Romania’s Black Sea coast.
“It seems that the cause of death was the poachers’ nets,” Popescu said.
Roussev and Popescu joined forces last summer to investigate the cases, with volunteers helping collect data on the number of dead dolphins along the coast.
Popescu brought a mobile laboratory from Romania to take samples from the dead dolphins.
Using mapping and tracking software, the team said they established that the dolphins had washed ashore from where they died, near Snake Island between Romania and Ukraine.
Snake Island is 35 km from the coast, east of the mouth of the Danube.
Roussev said the spot was a site for sea-bottom fishing nets used by illegal turbot poachers, with the nets resulting in the slaughter of large numbers of small dolphins.
Some of the nets are large, as tall as a three-story building, as wide as a football stadium, according to the report. This allows the capture of large quantities of fish, but dolphins trapped in such nets would not stand a chance.
Mammals cannot emerge to breathe air and die from drowning.
According to Popescu, while mapping the dolphin population in Romania, his team noticed poaching vessels in Romanian waters.
He said it was possible that some of the cases of dead dolphins stranded on the Bulgarian coast were the result of these vessels.
“But given the different degrees of decomposition of the bodies, the dolphin deaths happened at different times, so we suspect many other cases of poachers catching fish in different places,” Popescu said.
Roussev said that two days earlier, along 150 km of the Bulgarian coast, 22 dead dolphins washed up from Kamchiya beach to Silistar beach.
Conservation groups suspect that this summer poachers set their nets in Bulgarian territorial waters. They called on the country’s institutions to carry out an official investigation.
Miroslav Kalugerov, an official with Bulgaria’s environment and water ministry, said that to conduct such a specialized investigation, a dolphin that died within the last 24 hours had to be found. A solution was needed, “I hope that together we can succeed in finding a solution and addressing the appropriate measures to solve the problem”.
There are three species of dolphins in the Black Sea off Bulgaria – the short-beaked common dolphin, the harbor porpoise and the common bottlenose dolphin – all protected by law. The penalty for killing a dolphin of one of these species is 5,000 to 20,000 leva (about 2,500 to 10,000 euros) and a prison term of up to five years.
The Bulgarian Biological Diversity Law also prohibits harassing, hunting or capturing dolphins of these species and states that if a dead dolphin is washed ashore, it must be moved until examined by the ‘Regional environmental and water inspection to establish the species and report the death. of the Minister of the Environment and Water.
In 2006, a national network concerning dolphins stranded or caught in fishing nets was set up, led by the Institute of Fishery Resources in Varna and with the participation of the Regional Environmental Inspectorate and the water from the city of Burgas and the NGO Green Balkans.