18 Oct 2016


Fears are held for a humpback dolphin calf seen swimming off Cairns with marine debris wrapped around its body.

Locals are asked to be on the lookout for the young animal and to immediately report sightings to the RSPCA Hotline 1300 ANIMAL (1300 264 625).

James Cook University’s Dr Isabel Beasley first saw the calf swimming beside its mother around 10:00 am near Yorkeys Knob Recreational Boating Club on Friday 30 September, and again in the same general area on Sunday 2 October.

Dr Beasley, who was conducting marine survey work, said the mother and calf were with a group of dolphins.

Humpback dolphin calf tangled in marine debris
© Isabel Beasley

“The calf looked healthy, in good condition, and was swimming normally, however, it appears the marine debris is wrapped tightly around the calf’s neck and may not degrade away anytime soon."

“It also appears to have healed scaring around the tail region. The mother humpback dolphin appeared in good condition, with no apparent injuries, or netting, around her,” she said.

Humpback dolphin calf tangled in marine debris
© Isabel Beasley

Dr Beasley searched the entire Cairns area last week but could not find the mother and calf.

“It’s important anyone who sees this calf reports it to the RSPCA hotline,” she said.

Dr Beasley said the calf’s predicament was another reminder to people to properly dispose of old ropes, nets, and any other rubbish, particularly plastics which can be easily ingested by marine animals.

“During my recent survey work in the Cairns region I have unfortunately seen large amounts of litter in the water which can be fatal to marine creatures,” she said.

Humpback dolphin calf tangled in marine debris
© Isabel Beasley

Dr Beasley’s Cairns inshore dolphin fieldwork is sponsored by the Sea World Research and Rescue Foundation, Gold Coast

Sea World Director of Marine Sciences Trevor Long said incidents such as this highlight the real threats facing marine life due to the increasing amount of marine debris entering waterways.

“We are asking the public to keep an eye out for the calf and report details of sightings to the appropriate authorities so we can monitor its movements and condition,” he said.

WWF-Australia National Species Manager Darren Grover said the future for the calf looked bleak unless the marine debris could be removed.

“That netting will ultimately cause the calf’s death as it cuts deeper and deeper into the tissue."

“Like many environmental organisations, WWF has long sought to warn people of the impacts of rubbish on marine life. Sadly, this is a prime example,” Mr Grover said.

In September 2015, the Dawul Wuru Aboriginal Corporation launched the Yirrganydji Indigenous Land and Sea Ranger Program.

Project officer Gavin Singleton said: “We are very concerned about the health of this baby dolphin and other marine creatures impacted by marine debris."

“The Sea Country around Cairns is truly beautiful and not a place for rubbish."

“Our rangers will be on the lookout for the calf and we appeal to everyone to take extra care with all types of litter,” he said.

Marine Debris

In January, The World Economic Forum released a report which stated:

The best research currently available estimates that there are over 150 million tonnes of plastic waste in the ocean today.

Plastic stocks in the ocean are forecast to grow to 250 million tonnes in 2025.

Without significant action, there may be more plastic than fish in the ocean, by weight, by 2050.

At least 8 million tonnes of plastics leak into the ocean each year – which is equivalent to dumping the contents of one garbage truck into the ocean per minute.

In April, an Australian Senate report, Toxic tide: the threat of marine plastic pollution in Australia, included the following information:

Over 50% of turtles worldwide have ingested marine debris.

It is estimated that 99% of seabirds will have ingested plastic by 2050.

A single shearwater from Lord Howe Island ingested 274 pieces of plastic representing 14% of the bird’s body weight.

The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation estimated that the cost of ocean plastics to the tourism, fishing and shipping industries was $1.3 billion in our region.

In 2014, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) estimated that the annual damage of plastics to marine ecosystems is at least US$13 billion per year.

Tangaroa Blue Foundation is dedicated to the removal and prevention of marine debris and reports in its Spring 2016 newsletter:

Over 65,000 volunteers have now removed and recorded over 6.7 million items of ocean pollution into the Australian Marine Debris Database, weighing over 604 tonnes from 1,976 clean-up sites across the country!

Editor’s note: hi res versions of the pictures available here please credit © Isabel Beasley: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/ihen0fa5bhcruv1/AADXr71jSEVq91k6OAD8Gz3la?dl=0