TRAGIC: More Than 300 Turtles Found Dead in Fishing Net in Mexico

n a heartbreaking discovery, more than 300 olive ridley sea turtles were found dead in a discarded fishing net off the coast of Oaxaca, Mexico. They were found floating together, their shells cracked from spending more than a week trapped in the net under the sun, according to Unilad. Many of the turtles had injuries appearing to be from fishing hooks and nets.

This comes just days after 113 sea turtles, most of whom were olive ridleys, washed ashore in Mexico’s Chiapas state. And while tragic, it’s not uncommon for marine animals to be killed in “ghost nets. These abandoned commercial fishing nets drift through the ocean, trapping and killing nearly every animal in their paths.

In April, divers off the coast of the Cayman Islands found hundreds of dead animals caught in a ghost net. The diver who captured the horrifying images, which went viral on social media, said most of the animals in the net were so decomposed their species couldn’t be determined.

According to World Animal Protection, more than 640,000 tons of fishing gear are lost and pollute oceans each year. This fishing gear can entangle and kill or maim animals like whales and dolphins. Recently, members of the Macuaticos Foundation, a marine conservation organization, filmed a young humpback whale off Colombia’s Pacific coast who appeared to be missing a tail.

The whale calf seemed to swim normally through the water, but when the animal dived, one could see a terrifying jagged wound where the calf’s tail should have been. Researchers believe the most likely reason is that the whale had become entangled and wrapped so tightly in a fishing net that circulation was cut off and the tail was eventually lost.

Sadly, the whale is not expected to survive for long without a tail. Biologist Cristian Bermudez said, “The whale will probably not survive because the tail is essential for travelling around the sea and it is fundamental for deep dives.

In 2016, there were 71 reported cases of whales caught in fishing lines off the coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington. And such entanglements are increasing yearly. There were 61 off the West Coast in 2015, a record high at the time.

Kristen Monsell, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, told NPR what it’s like when a whale becomes entangled in a giant fishing net:
Sometimes it can drown the whale immediately, or it can happen over weeks, because they get so tired. They eventually die of exhaustion. If the gear is in their mouths, it impedes their ability to feed. It can amputate their tails or other parts of the body. And for younger whales, the gear may wrap around them, but the whale keeps growing and it cuts into their flesh.
Human consumption of seafood is responsible for the deaths of countless whales, sharks, dolphins, sea turtles, and porpoises. In fact, the National Journal estimates that about 20 percent of all animals caught in commercial trawling nets are “bycatch, or unwanted animals.

Recent video footage released by Mercy For Animals, SeaLegacy, Sharkwater, and Turtle Island Restoration Network reveals how marine animals—including dolphins, sea lions, and seabirds—are routinely trapped and killed in the commercial fishing industry’s driftnets. Animals were documented being cut apart, pierced with hooks, caught in nets, and left to suffocate aboard driftnet fishing boats off the coast of California.

Thankfully, after a hard-fought campaign, California’s legislature recently passed a bill that would phase out the use of cruel driftnets. The bill is awaiting Governor Brown’s signature.

By removing our support from the cruel fishing industry and leaving fish off our plates, we can help protect endangered animals like turtles, whales, and sharks.

Get started by trying vegan versions of seafood, such as Gardein’s fishless filets and crabless cakes. And check out more sea-inspired recipes!

Photo Credit: Coordinación Estatal de Protección Civil de Oaxaca