Monday, October 25

Warning to bathers in Galicia: do not play with the dolphin ‘Manoliño’ | Ecology | Climate and Environment

Dolphins have a complex social life. They form friendships, choose their company carefully, and can switch groups multiple times in a single day. Occasionally, one of these mammals may be left out, but their appetite for interaction does not change. This is the case of an animal that is related to humans in the Galician estuary of Muros y Noia. Experts from the Coordinator for the Study of Marine Mammals (Cemma) and the Bottlenose Dolphin Research Institute (BDIR) warn of the danger of these encounters for him and for people, but there seems to be no going back: bathers consider the dolphin as an attraction and he has become a problem for the shellfish workers who work in the area. No specific control has been exercised on the beaches and ports of the estuary, despite the fact that contact with cetaceans is illegal.

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The first interactions with the dolphin, which was popularly baptized as Manoliño, they were very similar to the idyllic underwater friendship images from the recent Oscar-winning documentary What the octopus taught me (Netflix). On social media and in the press there was talk of the curious relationship between a scuba shellfish and a wild animal. In a matter of days, residents of the estuary began to go to the port where he usually was – he had already lived in the area for more than a year – to swim with the dolphin and take pictures, according to Francisco Añón, president of the group. of shellfish gatherers of razor from the brotherhood of Noia. This was already a problem. However, the growing popularity of the cetacean has led to increasingly serious incidents: bathers trying to ride on the animal or a dangerous encounter between the animal and a razor worker.

The latter happened to Jorge Senra, a young shellfish fisherman who got a good scare with the dolphin when he was diving. Already a day before, the animal tried to grab his elbow with his mouth, although he was able to remove it with his hand without problems. But this second time Manoliño it bit him, hooked him with its teeth, tore his suit and dragged him roughly to the surface. The diver had to go to a health center to check the minor injury and make sure it had not been damaged by the sudden decompression. “It scares us to the razor, it is uncomfortable to work with an animal that wants you to stop your activity to pay attention to it,” explains Senra, who assures that they must interrupt the task several times a day due to the harassment of the cetacean.

The behavior of the specimen is normal, although it has been conditioned by contact with people, according to Bruno Díaz, president of the BDIR. In case of Manoliño It does not surprise him, he has followed similar ones in different parts of the world, also that of a dolphin that interacted with boats in the Ferrol estuary. However, he worries that the cetacean has lost a vital characteristic for the survival of wild animals: the fear of people. “It is necessary that people begin to realize that human behavior is very selfish,” laments the expert.

The solitary dolphin swimming in the Muros y Noia estuary.
The solitary dolphin swimming in the Muros y Noia estuary.Pablo Covelo / CEMMA

Irreparable damage

Díaz explains that it is a matter of time until the dolphin finds a new group and stops interacting with humans, but that will not happen if this behavior is reinforced. Alfredo López, from Cemma, agrees on this, and also describes the damage as irreparable. That is why he has been asking for measures for more than a year: control on the beaches so that people get out of the water when the cetacean appears, information posters, technical staff and volunteers who offer explanations to bathers about the importance of getting away from the animal. The BDRI expert agrees: “It is not complex to solve, these actions are illegal. You just need to ensure that the law is complied with, ”he claims.

The concern of the experts and the brotherhood is now concentrated in the near future: How will this situation be managed when the beaches are full in summer? López regrets that each call for attention to avoid more serious incidents, involving a 300-kilo wild animal, has had the opposite effect: more attention and more interaction. This also worries Liliana Solís, a biologist from the shellfish union. “There is a total ignorance that it is an animal that can be dangerous. The images of people swimming with him are unreal and cause an effect called towards something that does not exist ”, says Solís. Distance is the only way to keep that idyllic portrait for what it really is: something extraordinary.

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