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How Genetics and Pollution Are Threatening Wild Dolphins

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Dolphins are beautiful, highly intelligent and uncannily human in their interactions. Yet, they also have a language we humans cannot fully hear, and a culture that is in some ways similar to our own, and in others, a complete mystery.

Like us, they have circles of friends and acquaintances, with different greetings for different individuals, as if by name. They travel swiftly within a home range of about 100-square kilometers but can go further when they want to. They have the sleek design of a jet plane fuselage and the intelligence that comes with a 1,600-gram complexly structured brain. (The human brain is 1,300 grams.)

Found in almost all the world’s oceans, they communicate with friends and family through clicks and whistles, and echolocation allows them to view the world around them. They pass on knowledge of culture and tools through the generations from mother to daughter, a matrilineal line that preserves and protects their heritage.

Approximately 40 species of dolphins exist. Many belong to the Delphinidae (ocean dolphin) family, including the orca; others live in rivers. Collectively, there are approximately 90 species of cetaceans, the order comprising whales, dolphins and porpoises.

Scientists analyzing the dolphin brain have determined that, like us, they possess a very complex neocortex — a region of the brain linked to awareness, emotions, problem-solving and other human-like abilities. Further, the limbic (emotional) system in some species is even more complex than humans.

These sensitive creatures have made the headlines in the past few months. An endangered orca known as Tahlequah mourned the tragic loss of her baby, carrying her dead calf for a record 17 days and 1,000 miles on what some have deemed a “tour of grief.”

Shortly following Tahlequah’s tragedy, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Service regarding the species of orca on the West coast of the US that has become critically endangered. The suit alleged that the agency has neglected to establish habitat protection for the orcas. With only 75 of these orcas left, the population is the lowest it has been in 30 years.

Meanwhile, a combination of factors is threatening the very survival of these animals.

Genetics and Pollution

A recent study published in the journal Science delivers a serious warning as to the likelihood that dolphins and other marine mammals could be extirpated by pollutants. The discovery concerns an evolutionary change to DNA approximately 53 million years ago, which makes cetaceans particularly sensitive and therefore vulnerable.

Their bodies underwent various gradual changes during this evolutionary period. One of these changes was the alteration of DNA that codes for a particular enzyme known as PON1. Scientists believe the enzyme’s metabolic processes were no longer needed for a life underwater. Terrestrial mammals, by contrast, maintained the intact DNA and its enzyme, which humans have to this day.

But 53 million years later, the genetic change has become marine mammals’ Achilles’ heel, thanks to human invention. The enzyme has a second function — an ability to defend against neurotoxins found in pesticides. Without PON1, these animals are unable to break down the neurotoxin and can be poisoned.

Dolphins and other sea creatures with the PON1 problem are thus defenseless against agricultural runoff containing pesticides. Part of the reason the endangered infant orcas off the coast of California are having trouble is this kind of pollution. Marine mammals by the Florida coast are at risk as well, as scientists sampling waterways have found significant levels of chlorpyrifos pesticide contamination.

Dolphins have also been disappearing from areas around the globe they once inhabited, such as off the coast of Argentina. There, where dolphins were once common, only “a single resident population” is believed to be left. Heavy metal contamination and overfishing are likely contributors the decline. Elevated levels of lead, zinc, copper and cadmium have been found in mollusks, crustaceans and sea lions, as well as elevated levels of mercury, cadmium, zinc and copper in bottlenose dolphins. Metals pass from mother’s milk to the baby, resulting in the newborn dolphin having a weakened immune system and a lower probability of survival. The bottlenose dolphin is believed to be a common species globally and consequently people are less concerned about it than they should be; in certain localities these dolphins are quietly disappearing, as along the Argentinian coast. Scientists warn that the Argentina study “provides an example of how the failure to recognize local population declines can threaten the national (and eventually the international) status of a once common marine species.”

To be sure, dolphins are facing similar toxic threats around the world. While metal pollution off the coast of Argentina is assumed to have resulted from decades-old mine waste, it is by no means unique to South America. Scientists examining the waters of Lake Geneva, Switzerland, discovered high levels of toxic metals including bromine, lead, mercury and cadmium. The toxins came from plastics, some of which had been banned or restricted decades ago, indicating the toxins remain in the environment for years. Plastic pollution is especially pervasive in oceans that dolphins inhabit – estimated at 150 million metric tons, with 8 million more tons added annually. Tellingly, a Malaysian dolphin was found dead after digesting nine pounds of plastic bags.

Chemicals can have a lasting and sometimes irreversible impact on the environment. Without containment, poisons that were banned years ago seep out of landfills, into streams and oceans, permanently contaminating water. For some species, a death sentence has already been passed. Change has come too late for the orca variety of dolphin, also known as the killer whale. This is the sad revelation recently published in the journal Science regarding polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and orcas. PCBs banned more than 30 years ago have leached into the oceans, and killer whales as apex predators are “the most PCB contaminated mammals in the world,” say the researchers, who found some of the killer whales had 1,300 milligrams per kilo of PCBs in their blubber – 50 milligrams per kilo has been shown in previous research to be sufficient to cause infertility and serious immune system problems. As with metals, mothers pass the PCBs on to their babies through milk. The researchers predict that “PCB-mediated effects on reproduction and immune function threaten the long-term viability of [more than] 50% of the world’s killer whale populations.” They forecast a population collapse of orcas near industrialized regions, as well as in regions where orcas feed on larger prey. In short, half of the world’s orcas will be gone in just a few decades.

Some dolphin species are already very close to extinction. The Yangtze River dolphin, also known as “baiji,” has lived in the river for 20 million years. There were thousands in the 1950s, but in the year 2000, there were a mere 13. By 2006, scientists pronounced the species extinct after an unsuccessful six-week hunt by conservationists. Its current status is either extinct or near extinction — in 2016, some amateurs believe they may have seen a baiji, although they are not certain. The baiji would be the first dolphin made extinct by humans, in this case through pollution, dam-building, overfishing and boat traffic.

Dolphins face threats from climate change as well. Twelve dolphins were washed ashore in one week this summer in Florida, as a result of a red tide disasterdue in part to rising temperatures, with six killed in 24 hours. Such numbers have usually been an annual loss in the past.

Dolphins face a particular and cruel peril in Japan. The town of Taiji holds an annual dolphin “drive hunt” in which more than 1,000 dolphins are massacred each year. Hunters find a pod of dolphins and first create a clamor to disrupt the dolphins’ sonar, upsetting the dolphins and driving them into a cove, where they are then killed one by one, as the water in the cove turns red.

Even when dolphins are captured and kept in captivity, they react to their surroundings.

Dolphin Intelligence and the Future of the Animal Population

That dolphins are highly emotional is well-known. Peter — a dolphin kept in captivity after being moved to a smaller facility and permanently separated from the regular keeper he loved — fell into depression. Dolphins do not breathe air automatically the way humans do; each breath must be made consciously. A dolphin who has lost the will to live does not swim to the surface for his next breath. This was the fate of Peter; imprisoned and friendless at the new facility, he did not swim up for air and was found lifeless on the tank floor.

The emotional intelligence of dolphins reveals that trauma and separation will hurt dolphin families for years to come. The bloody waters of Taiji might hold the carcasses but not all the casualties. The many Peters of the world, having lost loved ones forever, can also lose the will to live.

At the 2010 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, scientists pondered the ethical and policy implications of dolphin intelligence. Neurobiologist Lori Marino argued that they may be Earth’s second-smartest creature. One can only agree.

A philosopher at the meeting proposed that dolphins perhaps ought to be considered “nonhuman persons.” He marvels at how, in addition to emotions and self-awareness, dolphins have personalities, exhibit self-control and even treat others ethically.

If a dolphin species becomes extinct, we lose not only a beautiful animal but a society and its culture. Dolphin habitat often spans the seas of many countries. Preserving them at home only to have them slaughtered on another shore is heart-wrenching. Preserving them abroad only to see them poisoned by pollution here is equally tragic. Countries must work together to ensure the survival of dolphins who swim beyond our borders, particularly as risks are compounded by climate change and pollution. The killing of whales for commercial purposes has been banned for many years. At the very least, this can be extended to their cousins now that we know they are under threat.

Pesticide use has to be regulated, particularly along the coasts to minimize PON1-related neurotoxic poisoning. Allowing a 53-million-year-old Achilles’ heel to be shot with the dart of human invention would be a tragedy. Minimizing plastic pollution is essential to dolphins as well. Preventing further PCB leakage into the oceans must also be a priority to save the orca populations, half of which are already facing collapse due to PCB-poisoning.

We have already witnessed the long-lasting effects of chemical runoff, from the decades-old plastic-derived toxins in Lake Geneva, to the 30-year-old PCBs seeping into oceans around the world. Once waters are contaminated, no one can go back. It is already too late for some orcas. Consequently, while we still can, we must prevent further contamination.

If nations can work together to minimize ocean pollution and affect laws to prevent chemical runoff, perhaps then Tahlequah and her fellow orcas will have greater success with the next generation of calves, and our children and grandchildren will continue to know the pleasure of seeing an orca or a bottlenose dolphin leap magnificently from the ocean.

Author’s note: this article first appeared in Truthout.org.

Meena Miriam Yust is an attorney based in Chicago, Illinois. Educated at Vassar College and Case Western Reserve University School of Law, she published a draft Migratory Insect Treaty with commentary in the Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law.

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Let’s play the squid game: but we play for our planet this time

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image source: netflix

Squid game is a current Netflix’s trend series and no one can escape from its influence. The world has Squid game fever now and there are a lot of people who want to partake and experience being in these games. People are lining up to try the popular games in the show and the Squid game’s challenges are piling up in social media and YouTube. This show is climbing up to the first place and achieving global popularity.

In the Squid game, the people who have debts are trying hard in playing the children’s games to win the billion-prize money but the punishment is death. The struggle and the poverty are focused in this series. Besides, it highlights the greed of the people and how it can awaken the devil’s side of human beings. The friendships, sympathy and care can be destroyed easily because of the greed for surviving and money. Apparently, this show is giving a special taste to the audience by the direct approach about our society and socioeconomic conditions. Therefore, it is no wonder that this gains a lot of popularity and becomes Netflix’s most-watched series in history.

Since Squid game wave is striking hard, people are addicted to the show and their willingness to try out the games of this show are unstoppable. So, this time can these passionate audiences participate in the Squid game competition for the sake of our planet? Nowadays, the state of our planet is serious and encountering a plethora of threats; pollution of air and water, ozone layer depletion, climate change, rising sea levels, land degradation, deforestation, loss of biodiversity and so on. 

Due to these environmental concerns, a lot of groups are rising up to spread awareness within the public. These socially conscious groups around the world try hard to inform how the single action of the people can impact the earth. Not only to protect the environment but also to reduce the existing environmental issues, the people from different backgrounds, societies and places have to work together. Although plenty of people are now concerned for their home planet and searching for the answer to solve these issues, educating the public to increase more awareness and attention still needs more room to develop.

To promote environmental awareness and actions to help our planet, the growth of the Squid game can play a perfect role. The unbeatable amount of Squid games addicted fans who are also concerned for the state of the planet can be used in encouraging the public more for the current issues of the earth. Let them play these trend games that they are dying to play and at the same time, the promotion for the actions to preserve the earth will be done.

Creating the competition which inspire Squid game series for our home planet

Type of games and the Rules

Just like in the Squid game series, in this competition, there will be traditional children’s games which were popular in the past. But this time, the games will be collected from various countries. Therefore, the contestants can experience various cultures, explore new things and as a consequence, they will feel connected to each other. Besides these traditional games, there will be games that can help to reduce the carbon footprints such as planting the trees as much as they can in the given time, creating innovative staffs by recycling or reusing the materials and so on. The prime rule for this competition is that the player cannot quit till the game ends and they will have to agree to take the punishment no matter what. And manipulation to each other is not allowed and all the players will be equally treated while in the games.

Host and sponsors

The international organizations such as WWF, IUCN, UNESCO, UN, ASEAN, ADB, etc can be the host in this game. Since these organizations are helping to identify the environmental problems and supporting the protection, they can be the best candidate to be a host in the competition. Along with them, the big corporations who are embracing sustainability can be the sponsors, in other words, they will take the role of VIPs just like in the Squid game series. As the businesses can make greater profits and create better images by considering the economy, social and environment in operating their businesses. Being the sponsors in this game will help them in implementing the better CSR programs and pursuing sustainability. This is one of the best ways to acquire the public’s attention, also loyal customers and as a result, their brand image and competitive advantage will also be improved.

Players

Who will get the invitation for this game?

A group of socially conscious, young generations and also the people who want to experience the games can be the players in this competition. Most of the youths are worried about the future of the planet and they are concerned about the impacts of the environmental issues. They want to change their lifestyles to be more environmentally friendly compared to the older generations. Due to this competition, the adults can have a chance to remember their nostalgic childhood times and the young can experience these old games while they can make effective things for the planet.

Prize

The prize is one of the incentives to stimulate the people to play in this game. The bitter truth is one of the powerful incentives is money. A group of winners will get the money to invest in the environmental projects. Frankly, to protect our environment and planet, billion dollars is one of the requirements.

Punishment

As the players are competing for the sake of the earth, the punishment will definitely not be death. But instead, the players who will get eliminated from the games will have to spend their times at the special place for several days. That special place is located in one of the biggest landfill sites. Losers of this competition have to work in that place and they will have to help in the disposal services.

To conclude, if this competition actually happens in the future, it will bring certain benefits for the environment, society and businesses. So, why do not we inspire this current most-watched series “Squid game” to spread awareness and encourage the people to save the planet, Earth. Let’s give a chance for the people to play in their favorite childhood’s games, be green and save our home.

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Climate change and global challenges

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The whole world has been severely affected by climate change and the Covid-19 epidemic. The natural character of the whole world has also changed due to the rise in global temperature. Given the current situation, all the people of the world are in a state of panic about the horrors of the coronavirus. The world has been devastated by hundreds of disasters since the 1960s. More than 50 million people have become destitute. Many people have died. And most of the disasters are accompanied by constant climate change.

In 2020, 4 crore people became homeless due to deteriorating weather and climate change. At the same time, the adverse effects of the weather are becoming more extreme due to climate change from this year. This year it will break the record and stand at 5 crore. Many people have to leave their country. This number is double the current refugee population in the world. Not just any particular country or people, people all over the world are facing the harmful effects of climate change. Especially in the last 20 years, this effect has spread from Asia, Europe, Africa to the Americas.

Increasing use of fossil fuels is warming the weather, forcing more people to flee their homes due to unexpected floods or storms. Besides, factors like crop damage and drought are also making this trend more evident. Politicians in rich countries are fearful of increasing pressure on their country’s infrastructure due to the influx of environmental refugees from other countries.

Carbon emissions play the biggest role in climate change. Low-income countries are also deprived of 100 billion a year in promised compensation for carbon emissions. Asia has the highest number of people displaced due to environmental reasons. In countries such as China, India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia, millions of people live in low-lying coastal areas or in delta-adjacent areas. More and more people are at risk of flooding due to population growth and urbanization, and the rapid rise in sea level is being added to this.

People have already witnessed extreme weather, drought or heavy rains, cyclones.  That is to say, the destructive form of climate and nature is gradually becoming manifest. Mankind is being blamed for this hostile behavior of nature. People are taking care of nature in many ways. Rivers are being occupied and the mountains are being cut indiscriminately. Houses are being built on agricultural land. In this way, oppression on nature is going on in various ways, due to which nature is becoming hostile. We are ruining all our own achievements. As a result, there has been severe inflammation.

The world’s population is constantly growing. There is no end to the discussion and criticism about population growth. It is time to take stock of what new steps can be taken or how human suffering can be reduced. With the increase in population, new problems have been added. It may seem unbelievable but it is true that every day around 25,000 people in the world die due to eating habits and malnutrition. In addition, the world is facing many adverse reactions including shortage of potable water, air toxicity, depletion of resources, housing problems and the destruction of the Ozone layer.

At the root of this is population growth. The temperature in the capital Dhaka has risen due to rapid population growth. A study has identified 25 high-risk areas in Dhaka as a result of rising temperatures. These areas have been named ‘Hit Island’. The performance of the people of this area is decreasing day by day with the increase of various diseases.

Assistance is needed to increase the capacity of CVF countries to deal with the dual threat of epidemics and disasters, especially those affected by the increased frequency of climate-related disasters. Climate-risk countries contribute the least to global greenhouse gas emissions, but they suffer the most. 2021 is a very important year for climate issues as the United States returns to the Paris Agreement. The COP-26 conference on climate change in Scotland next November is expected to yield some good results on climate change. The main goal of COP-26 is to address the impact of climate change and to educate the world about its harmful effects. Bangladesh has also participated in this climate change prevention project.

In ancient times there was a close relationship between man and nature. Ever since man came in contact with civilization, he has learned to strike at nature. Over time, man began to wreak havoc on nature. The problem of environmental pollution is increasing day by day. The trees were not spared from the victims of cruelty. As a result, fear is constantly concentrated in our habitable world. We look for different ways to get rid of it. But if we let nature be like that, we would not have to suffer this consequence in our lifetime.

Blinded by the fascination of speed, people have cut down the forest and set up houses, sometimes they have driven away the animals there. In recent times, mountains are being cut down and forests are being cleared somewhere. Deforestation is endangering the lives of many people. Even though the seasons are changing, these incidents add to our anxiety. But trees can be very resistant to prevent global warming. If the environment does not survive, the problems of the world will intensify. Animals, human beings will face loss of everything. The main reason is the indifference of the people.

 A closer look reveals that this apathy has a significant effect on the depraved market economy. Rivers, hills, soils, forests are all instruments of income growth in the eyes of that market. In order to earn income from these sources, natural resources are being destroyed, centuries-old trees are losing their lives or the source of the boundless beauty of nature is being endangered. In the past, there was a connection between man and nature, which is why in many places forests have survived because those who grew up in contact with plants can realize the contact with nature by finding ways to do the necessary work without harming the plants.

Climate change is responsible for recent disasters. We have to fight hard to save the world from increasing global warming. World leaders must take strong action, including global initiatives, to leave a sustainable future for the next generation. The international community has a special responsibility to assist countries at risk of climate change in their adaptation and mitigation efforts.

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It’s not fair to single out the five countries in the Greta Thunberg UN children-climate case

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Swedish climate activist, Greta Thunberg. UN Photo/Cia Pak

The Greta Thunberg UN case decision just came out today. You might remember that back in 2019, Greta and other children brought a headline case before the UN to prove that climate change affects children’s rights, and it’s a hard issue of law and rights — something that has been long resisted in the area of human rights law when it comes to the environment. The environment has always been one of those peripheral issues for human rights law and that’s why today’s decision is groundbreaking. In a historic ruling that came out today, the UN Child Rights Committee has found that a State party can be held responsible for the negative impact of its carbon emissions on the rights of children both within and outside its territory.

The countries that are bearing the international public slap in the face in this case, however, (Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, and Turkey) are not the biggest emitters and polluters. They were selected as a target of the case not for the worst climate impacts, but simply because they have ratified the additional Protocol of the UN Child Rights Convention, so a case against them can be brought; the biggest emitters haven’t. So it’s a bit like a “catch whoever you can”, and that should be born in mind in the discussion.

The countries in the UN Greta case are the classical international law countries (Europe and Latin America) who have agreed that their human rights practices can be reviewed and challenged. The biggest carbon emitters, on the other hand, haven’t agreed to accept cases.The US hasn’t even ratified the Child Rights Convention, as the only country in the world, let alone the Additional Protocol for direct cases.

The case is very important as a test case and one which develops the nexus between human rights law and climate. It develops the principles of the reasoning and the legal parameters — that’s the take-away. We should remember that the five singled out countries are not the bad guys when it comes to climate change.

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