Fingers, a bottlenose dolphin has fishing line tangeled around his tail fluke - photo by Delphine Chabanne
Just another example of this growing problem with plastics that I see everywhere I go. A well known dolphin near Perth Australia known as “Fingers” may soon die because fishing line has become wrapped around it’s tail. The fishing line, also known as monofilament is fishing line made from a single fiber of plastic.
Hugh Finn, a dolphin expert at Murdoch University in Australia, says Fingers is a bottlenose dolphin and researchers have been following it since 1993. The fishing line was first noticed in February 2013 when Fingers approached a research boat manned by Dr. Finn’s Colleague Delphine Chabanne. It is wrapped around the tail fluke in a way the dolphin can’t remove it himself nor will it come off by itself. Monofilament fishing line, which is made from plastic, does not degrade for 500 years.
“Because the fishing line does not break down, it becomes like a dull is knife that gradually cuts into the Dolphins flesh,” Dr. Finn told me during a Skype interview. “It can be very painful.”
According to Dr. Finn, there are generally three outcomes from a situation like this. The first is the possibility that the fishing line will pick up seaweed and other debri which will cause so much drag that the tail fluke will actually be amputated. The second result might be that the entanglement disables the animal to the point that it can no longer catch fish for food or swim fast enough to stay away from sharks. The third, and most likely outcome in the case of Fingers is the fishing line just creates and open wound that is vulnerable to deadly infections, such as the bloodstream infection known as Septicemia. This could take months to years to happen.
WATCH INCREDIBLE VIDEO OF WILD DOLPHIN ALLOWING DIVERS TO REMOVE FISHING LINE FROM FIN
Fishing line entanglement is widespread among many sea creatures, but dolphins and whales seem particularly affected. Sometimes divers are able to remove fishing line, but in many cases it just isn’t practical and the animal is left to struggle with the problem on it’s own. On the night of January 11, 2013, during a dive off the Kona coast to view manta rays divers encountered a bottlenose dolphin that slowly swam around them. The dolphin approached one of the divers and turned over. In the underwater lights meant to illuminate the manta rays, the diver could see that the dolphin’s pectoral fin was entangled in fishing line. The diver was able to remove the fishing line with his dive knife. (video of this amazing event is in the clip posted above).
In the case of Fingers, however, the prospect of a rescue doesn’t seem likely, according to Dr. Finn. “There are substantial practical obstacles,” he told me. “Fingers is a full grown male and does not often come into the local river where Gizmo was found. In Florida they have the expertise to capture dolphins and they have the nets, but here is Western Australia we don’t have those opportunities.”
Photo of "Fingers" from video recorded by Delphine Chabanne
What will become of Fingers is not clear at this point, but unless there is a major opportunity to help him, his prospects don’t look good. “People need to be realistic,” Finn said. “We’d all love for him to be freed from the fishing line, but in all likelihood, that isn’t going to happen.”
Despite the bleak and depressing situation surrounding the entanglements, there is a simple and easy answer. It lies in the fishing line itself. According to Dr. Finn, fisherman need only to simply switch to a biodegradable fishing line. Unlike plastic monofilament which does not decompose for 500 years or more, biodegradable fishing line, which is the same price as regular fishing line and widely available today, decomposes in months.
Biodegradable Fishing Line Is widely available in tackle shops and online