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Dynamite fishermen kill 22 rare whales

/ 01:03 AM March 25, 2014

RESCUE MISSION. Swiss-Italian marine biologist Gianni Boy Grifoni and his assistant, Stephanie Chua, try to save a dwarf sperm whale wounded by dynamite fishing off Siargao Island in Surigao del Norte province. DAMIAN GAGNIEUX/CONTRIBUTOR

SURIGAO CITY, Philippines – Dynamite fishing continues to destroy not only corals but also rare sea creatures off the world-famous surfing destination of Siargao Island, killing at least 22 rare dwarf sperm whales and 21 dolphins over the weekend.

“The whales, apparently 22 of them, were killed by dynamite fishing,” said Gianni Boy Grifoni, a Swiss-Italian marine biologist who is currently staying in General Luna town, the island’s surfing and resort haven that is popular with tourists. He cited the accounts of residents.

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On Friday, a beach resort in Dapa town, Siargao’s trade center, became a refuge for two wounded dwarf sperm whales (Kogia sima)—apparently a mother and its baby—hours after what a resident described as a series of blasts from the sea that morning.

Grifoni and his assistant, Stephanie Chua, tried to save the whales that got stranded off a resort in Kamaligan, Barangay (village) 12, in Dapa, at 11 a.m. on Friday. Both were badly injured, according to Grifoni.

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“I helped to check the status of the dwarf sperm whales. We arrived to save two at the beginning, one mother with the baby. The baby died on Saturday morning after suffering bad injures,” he said. On Sunday, the mother sperm whale died.

Donna Tiu, a Dapa resident who saw the two dwarf sperm whales when they were brought to the beach, said the creatures looked severely distressed, their stab wounds visible. “They looked as if they were pleading for help,” Tiu said.

It is a common practice among dynamite fishermen to stun large marine species, such as dolphins and dwarf sperm whales, with a blast and finish them off with bolos. Grifoni said the two whales had stab wounds.

Residents said at least 21 dolphins were also killed during Friday’s dynamite fishing spree. The meat is sold in wet markets but most are set aside for fishing families to consume. Fisherfolk make up the majority of Siargao’s population of 150,000, scattered around nine poor municipalities.

Law enforcement has also been a nagging problem. Some police and local officials are known to release whoever is caught using dynamites out of compassion.

“They (police and local authorities) merely confiscate the illegal fishing paraphernalia and then free the offenders,” said one resident, who did not want his name mentioned for fear of reprisal. “So the problem persists because no one gets punished.”

It is common to see amputees in Siargao—a stark reminder of how widespread the use of illegal fishing methods is. Dynamite fishing has also caused the widespread destruction of corals around the island.

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Jake Miranda, a businessman who is known for his marine conservation campaigns, had earlier sounded the alarm over dynamite fishing’s impact on Siargao’s marine environment.

“One doesn’t see the obvious destruction caused by dynamite fishing. There are hundreds if not thousands of the same damage in other parts of Siargao. Corals never grow back easily. It takes a lifetime to bring back the fish,” Miranda said in a recent Facebook post.

“Today, dynamite fishing off Siargao Island continues unabated. It is time to stop it not for our sake but for our children and their children who have yet to enjoy the beauty and diversity of Siargao,” he said.

The nearby island province of Dinagat also suffers from the same fate, Miranda said.

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TAGS: dynamites, Fishing, News, Regions, Whales
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