Heartbreaking dolphin deaths in Mauritius oil spill area rise to 40

A carcass of a dolphin that died and was washed up on shore is seen at the Grand Sable, photo: Reuters/Beekash Roopun/L'Express Maurice
A carcass of a dolphin that died and was washed up on shore is seen at the Grand Sable, photo: Reuters/Beekash Roopun/L'Express Maurice

At least 40 dolphins have mysteriously died in an area of Mauritius affected by an oil spill from a Japanese ship, officials said on Friday. A witness described the moment a mother dolphin died in front of him.

Residents who had ventured out in a boat alerted Reuben Pillay to a mother dolphin swimming around her dying baby. He sped off to try to find them; the baby had died by the time he arrived, he said, but the mother initially looked normal.

“But in a few minutes she went on her side, one fin in the water, and one out of the water and then she started flapping her tail really rapidly,” said Pillay, a professional drone operator and environmentalist.

“She swam in circles in front of the boat, she moved her tail very violently, and after about five minutes she just stopped moving, and she sunk … We heard cries, I thought it was a woman on the boat – but they told me, no – it was the dolphin.”

As they watched, the mother stopped moving and eventually slowly sank, tail first, beneath the waves. The body of the baby floated on the surface. “We didn’t know what to do. It was heartwrenching,” he said.

Earlier in the day, Jasvin Sok Appadu from the Mauritius fisheries ministry told Reuters that 38 carcasses had washed up on the beaches so far. Autopsy results on 25 dolphins that washed ashore are expected in the coming days, he said.

So far, veterinarians have examined only two of the dolphins, which bore signs of injury but no trace of hydrocarbons in their bodies, according to preliminary autopsy results. The autopsy on the first two was conducted by the government-run Albion Fisheries Research Centre.

The dolphins have been dying in an area affected by an oil spill caused when a Japanese ship, the MV Wakashio, struck a coral reef last month.

On Thursday, Greenpeace called on the government of Mauritius to launch an “urgent investigation to determine the cause of the deaths and any ties to the Wakashio oil spill”.

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