Since August 24, at least 27 dead dolphins have washed up on three beaches on the island of Mauritius, as well as other marine mammals. Scientists and activists suspect that oil leaked from a wrecked cargo ship could be responsible for the poisoning of local dolphins, porpoises and sperm whales. Witnesses told the FRANCE 24 Observers team that the dead dolphins found on the beaches had evidence of oil on their skin.

Some scientists have called the oil spill the worst ecological disaster to ever hit Mauritius. On July 25, a Japanese bulk carrier, the MV Wakashio, ran aground near the island, leaking approximately 1,000 tonnes of fuel oil into the ocean. It is still too early to know the long-term effects of the oil spill on the region’s marine ecosystems, but as the number of dead dolphins continues to rise, some inhabitants believe the animals’ deaths are directly tied to the oil spill.

A spokesperson from the Mauritius fisheries minister suggested that the dolphins’ deaths are not related to the spill, citing shark bites on the carcasses as evidence. “The dead dolphins had several wounds and blood around their jaws, no trace of oil however,” Jasvin Sok Appadu told Reuters.

It is rare, however, for this many dead marine animals to appear in such a short window of time. Since the oil spill, many fish and crabs have washed up on the beaches of Mauritius, but until this week, larger marine mammals had not been found dead.

Locals sound the alarm

Nitin Jeeha is a resident of Mauritius and an activist for the opposition Mauritian Militant Movement (MMM). He conducted an assessment of the situation with a group of citizens at Petit Sable beach on August 26. Jeeha saw seven dead dolphins and one that was still alive.
As a social worker, I have been very active since the start of the oil spill that occurred after the Wakashio shipwreck. I went to Petit Sable and Grand Sable. When I arrived at these locations, you could feel locals’ sadness and anger. 
At Petit Sable, you can still see the spilled oil. A little further on, volunteers recovered the body of one of the dolphins. There were clear traces of oil in his mouth. 
Nitin Jeeha posted these images on his Facebook page on August 27. The caption translates as: “Assessment with residents of Petit Sable and Grand Sable. Really sad. 7 dead dolphins and 1 still alive…”

Images by locals posted on social media have been widely shared. Keshav Muthee and Abhii Shek went to Petit Sable beach to document the situation there. Muthee shared the photos he took with the FRANCE 24 Observers team. 
These photos of dead dolphins found on Mauritius beaches were posted on Facebook on August 25 by resident Keshav Muthee. They include close-ups that appear to show traces of oil.
In this video posted on Facebook August 25, Abhii Shek turns over one of the dead dolphins.

'Stranded dolphins put an end to the island’s idyllic image as paradise on earth'

Yuvan Beejadhur, an economist in Mauritius who specialises in the “Blue Economy”, the sustainable exploitation and preservation of marine environments, has been following the case closely. He told the FRANCE 24 Observers team that as of August 28, organs from five of the dead dolphins had been removed for autopsy.
A second video of dead dolphins at Petit Sable beach filmed by Abhii Shek that he posted on his Facebook page August 26.
 
International experts and those familiar with dolphins know that this kind of oil spill affects the breathing, mobility and ultimately the life of animals such as dolphins, whales and sharks.

There will likely be generational impacts, including long-term health effects, such as spinal or bone deformities.
The scenes of stranded dolphins on Mauritius’s coast put an end to the island’s idyllic image as "paradise on earth". The accident occurred in a place that is extremely rich in aquatic and marine biodiversity. Small nearby islands such as Ile aux Aigrettes are home to unique creatures. Coastal waters are also home to a range of species such as whales, dolphins, sea turtles, seabirds and other species of seals.

The peaceful way of life in Mauritius has changed with the sinking of the Wakashio and oil leaking into our lagoons. The oil spill signifies the force of a degraded form of capitalism that lacks regulations and controls. Our Blue Economy became a ‘trash economy’ overnight. Mauritius is located in a strategic and risky area. Tankers, which cross by thousands each year in our waters, represent a threat to the ecology, natural capital and the economies of small islands like Mauritius.

Beejadhur said that while he believes the oil spill is the most likely reason for the sudden spike in dolphin deaths, there were other possible causes, such as military exercises, seismic activity, the use of sonar equipment and even mass suicide.

This article was written by Sophie Stuber.