Last week, a baby La Plata dolphin was scooped out of the shallow waters of Santa Teresita, an Argentine beach, by beachgoers who proceeded to pass the helpless dolphin around the growing crowd of spectators like it was the World Cup trophy. Attracted by its cuteness and rare, small size, beachgoers flocked to the scene for the chance to hold, pet, and selfie with the dolphin. The video and pictures released shows the scene unfold, and leaves animal advocates horrified as people carelessly pet and grab at the dolphin, valuing it only for its rarity and instant entertainment. The innocent dolphin, only a few feet long, was manhandled and paraded around the beach so that humans could take advantage of this unique “opportunity” to be see a baby dolphin. By the end of the video, the dolphin is seen lying on the beach motionless, devoid of life. Unfortunately the dolphin did not survive its encounter with humans, another reminder of the consequences humanity can so easily inflict onto the environment. Their careless actions, fueled by fascination and selfish desire, led to the loss of this endangered, baby dolphin. Though many of the spectators did not intend to harm the baby dolphin, a lack of education and respect for animals is largely to blame for this tragic incident.
The La Plata, or Fransicana dolphin is listed as Vulnerable to extinction under the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN), as there are less than 30,000 left in the wild. La Plata dolphins are extremely unique because they are the only species of river dolphin known to frequently inhabit salt water. Their ability to adapt to different salinity levels is similar to bull sharks, in that they can succeed and function in both fresh and salt water. Located exclusively in the waters off Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil the species is set to teeter on the brink of extinction by the end of the century. Such restricted territory further decreases their chance of recovery, as those countries all have very active commercial fishing operations. The largest threat to the fate of La Plata are fishing nets, both those that have been discarded and large trawling nets. Habitat infringement by fishing vessels caused this unique dolphin species to decline in the first place, and now the threat of maltreatment on the beaches only adds insult to injury. At this point, every single offspring and member of the population is crucial in order for them to make a comeback in the wild.
A statement from NOAA said that this species is naturally, “extremely shy and evasive” which put the young dolphin at an even more increased risk of death when being overcome by so many humans at once. All animals become stressed when thrown into uncertain and unnatural situations, such as being picked up by a group of large humans, and it can have severe physiological effects. For example, many fish will exhibit a very pale color near their face, similar to what is seen of the dolphin in the video. The poor dolphin suffered from extreme stress and perished. The death of a baby really intensified the situation as babies are so important to maintaining a healthy population and ensuring the future of La Plata dolphins.
The internet exploded with passionate commentary in reaction to this incident, by scorning those who took selfies with the dolphin and condemning the practice of petting wild animals who are beached. This was a tragic accident, but it hopefully resulted in people around the world being more educated about how to treat beached or close to shore animals. The proper action to take is gently help it to deeper water in order to get it on its way to the open ocean. It is very important to not overly crowd the animal or grab onto it, in order to prevent scaring the vulnerable animal. The worst part of the interaction with the baby dolphin was when it was hoisted into the air and shown off as a trophy. In order to preserve these beautiful and rare animals for future generations, we must collectively work to change the attitude of the public towards animals. The demand for endangered species is driven by the premise that people will pay large sums of money to own something that is rare and intriguing – even if it is at the expense of that animal. In this case, the desire for a selfie with this very cute dolphin overrode the instinct to protect it and help return it to its natural environment. The death of this La Plata dolphin is just another sad reminder of how an unhampered desire for the rare and beautiful combined with a lack of education leads to tragedy, always at the expense of the innocent animal.