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An Attempted Dolphin Rescue and Domestic Cats Kill Billions

A group of dolphins keep dying dolphin afloat and cats kill billions of animals

Two recent stories, one about wild dolphins and the other about domestic cats, caught my eye and I want to share them with you because each contains some very interesting new information about the other animals with whom we share our fascinating planet. 

Dolphins try to save another dolphin

First time observations of nonhuman animals (animals) doing something are incredibly exciting. Recently, a group of wild long-beaked common dolphins was observed trying to save a dying companion in the East Sea off the coast of Ulsan, South Korea. The first page of the original research article published in the professional journal called Marine Mammal Science can be seen here.

Researchers reported that as the dying dolphin lay in the water the five others formed a raft. Furthermore, "A number of dolphins circled this group, while those within appeared to be trying to help the stricken dolphin maintain its balance, by pushing it from the side and below. Then the 10 remaining dolphins took turns to form a raft using their bodies. ... One of the dolphins in the raft even flipped over its body to better support the ailing dolphin above, while another used its beak to try to keep the dying dolphin's head up." 

This is the first observation of individuals in a group of wild dolphins working together to try to save another dolphin. The stricken dolphin died but five group members continued to interact with the dead body "rubbing and touching it, or swimming underneath, releasing bubbles onto it. They carried on this way despite the dead dolphin's body showing signs of rigor mortis, say the researchers."

KIller cats "are likely the single greatest source of anthropogenic mortality for US birds and mammals"

A recent essay by science writer Natalie Angier in the New York Times called "That Cuddly Kitty Is Deadlier Than You Think" also caught my attention and I was astounded by some of the facts that I read about cats as killing machines. She writes, "In a report that scaled up local surveys and pilot studies to national dimensions, scientists from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that domestic cats in the United States — both the pet Fluffies that spend part of the day outdoors and the unnamed strays and ferals that never leave it — kill a median of 2.4 billion birds and 12.3 billion mammals a year, most of them native mammals like shrews, chipmunks and voles rather than introduced pests like the Norway rat." 

The abstract of the original essay by researchers Scott R. Loss, Tom Will, and Peter P. Marra called "The impact of free-ranging domestic cats on wildlife of the United States" published in Nature Communications states that "free-ranging domestic cats kill 1.4–3.7 billion birds and 6.9–20.7 billion mammals annually. Un-owned cats, as opposed to owned pets, cause the majority of this mortality. Our findings suggest that free-ranging cats cause substantially greater wildlife mortality than previously thought and are likely the single greatest source of anthropogenic mortality for US birds and mammals." Dr. Marra claims the estimated mortality numbers are "shockingly high." They surely are to me. (Anthropogenic means "relating to, or resulting from the influence of human beings on nature".) 

Debates go on and on about how companion (aka pet) cats should be treated - for example, should they be free to roam outdoors or kept indoors, should they be neutered or spayed - and many experts note that letting cats who also live with human companions roam outside is often bad for the cats and clearly is bad for wildlife although the killing for which they are responsible is about 29% of the birds and 11% of the mammals. Still, they do kill billions of animals despite their being otherwise fed and housed. 

The teaser image can be seen here.

Note: For a perspective on this study and its implications from the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), please see this essay by Wayne Pacelle, its President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO).

 

Marc Bekoff, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

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