Denmark’s top fur cooperative is closing

November 25, 2020 by  
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The news that an enormous Danish fur cooperative is closing is bittersweet. While animal-lovers may rejoice at the end of Kopenhagen Fur, it comes on the tail of a massive culling of about 17 million farmed mink in Denmark due to worries that they could spread a mutated form of COVID-19 to humans. Kopenhagen Fur is the world’s largest fur auction house in the world, a cooperative owned by 1,500 Danish fur farmers and brokers. In 2018-19, it sold nearly 25 million mink skins. This week, the auction house announced it would close within the next few years. Related: Denmark to cull millions of minks to prevent spread of mutant coronavirus Humane Society International predicts that this could signify the end of the global fur industry. “The announcement by Kopenhagen Fur that it will cease trading shows that fur production has now passed a tipping point and it could very well signal the beginning of the end of the fur trade,” said Joanna Swabe, HSI Europe senior director of public affairs, as reported in VegNews . “Fur farms are not only the cause of immense and unnecessary animal suffering, but they are also ticking time bombs for deadly diseases. We cannot simply sit back and wait for the next pandemic to emerge from them.” During the summer, mink farms in the U.S., Spain and the Netherlands all diagnosed COVID-19 in these little carnivorous mammals. Experts worried that the mutated form of the virus could threaten the effectiveness of the anticipated coronavirus vaccines. Just hours before the announcement of Kopenhagen Fur’s closure, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) released the “Rapid Risk Assessment: Detection of new SARS-CoV-2 variants related to mink.” This report details the awful consequences of mutated viruses spreading from farmed mink to humans and stresses that this risk also applies to other future viruses besides COVID-19 . “Mink farms provide the ideal environment for a mutating virus,” said Justine Butler, senior health researcher for the animal rights group Viva!. “The animals are kept in horrific conditions and experience extreme stress as a result of their cramped and inhumane surroundings. On these farms, the animals are tightly packed into filthy wire cages, standing on top of each other and in their own feces, which enables viruses to quickly mutate and spread throughout the population.” The Netherlands is planning to stop fur production by March 2021. Perhaps we’ll soon be hearing more announcements about ending this cruel practice from other countries as well. Via VegNews Image via Pixabay

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Denmark’s top fur cooperative is closing

New eco-friendly, decomposing construction foam unveiled

November 25, 2020 by  
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Researchers have come up with a new, more eco-friendly and effective form of building insulation material. The new material was developed due to the shortcomings of the traditional polyurethane-based foam insulators. These traditional insulators harm the environment via the release of volatile compounds into the atmosphere. A group of engineers from the University of North Texas College of Engineering led the research. The engineers, led by Professor Nandika D’Souza of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, have been working on the project since 2018. D’Souza’s lab earned a National Science Foundation grant worth $302,285 to help find a solution to the shortcomings of the conventional insulators. After much research, the team revealed a new type of insulation material, which is less harmful to the environment . By mixing corn-based polylactic acid with cellulose, in combination with supercritical carbon-dioxide, researchers found they could create an environmentally friendly product. This type of insulator is not only safe but also combustible and decomposable. “PLA on its own was good, but we found it wasn’t as strong as the conventional insulation, so we came up with the idea of mixing cellulose in,” D’Souza said. “ Cellulose is a degradable fiber and is often found as a waste in the paper industry, so not only is it stronger, but also is cheaper and easier to come by.” The team has already tested its new technology at the UNT Engineering Zero Energy Lab, a space designed to test alternative energy generation technologies. With the technology already tested and proven in the lab, it only has to go through trials in the construction industry to determine its viability. Kayode Oluwabunmi, one of the doctoral students in DSouza’s lab, says the undoing of conventional foam is its inability to break down once it’s no longer usable. This means the foam lingers in the environment. “The conventional foams are not environmentally-friendly and do not break down once they are no longer usable. They can stay in the environment for 1,000 years,” Oluwabunmi said. Besides its ability to decompose, the new material is also long-lasting. It shares a similar lifespan with the conventional foam and allows a 12% increase in heating and cooling. In other words, this material will help control energy flow better and with fewer risks. + The University of North Texas Images via The University of North Texas

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New eco-friendly, decomposing construction foam unveiled

Will gene editing and cloning create super cows that resist global warming?

November 13, 2020 by  
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Livestock emit about 14.5% of all greenhouse gases , and now their gassy ways are coming back to haunt them. Dairy cattle are increasingly suffering from debilitating heat stress due to global warming. While vegan activists might suggest this would be a good time to lessen our dependence on animal products, scientists have another solution — use gene editing and cloning to produce a heat-resistant race of super calves. Heat-stressed cows eat less, produce less milk and find it hard to conceive. Sometimes, they can even die because of the heat. Heat stress costs the U.S. dairy industry alone at least $900 million a year. On many small farms in the developing world, families don’t have cows to spare. Related: Impossible Foods is testing revolutionary plant-based milk “ Rising temperatures and predicted longer and more intense periods of warm weather can only mean that the problems with heat stress and fertility will increase,” Goetz Laible, PhD, an animal scientist at New Zealand’s AgResearch, told Future Human . Because darker colors absorb more light and heat, Laible and a group of other scientists used genetic engineering to lighten the coats of Holstein-Friesian cattle. These are the iconic white cows with big black spots. The scientists used the gene-editing tool CRISPR to alter a pigmentation gene in cattle embryos. Then, they cloned the embryos and implanted them in 22 normal cows. Only two cows managed to carry their super calves to term. Unfortunately, one died almost immediately and the other lived to be only four weeks old. Laible attributed the deaths to common complications of cloning rather than to the gene editing. Acceligen, a Minnesota-based company, is experimenting with gene editing to give cows a “slick” trait. This is a genetic variant for a sleek, short coat which cools down cows in subtropical heat. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has helped fund this work, hoping to someday introduce these cows to farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. Scientists are aware of the possibility of editing mistakes and what they call “off-target” effects of CRISPR. But one wonders exactly how much they’ve learned from the past, as documented in popular entertainment. Film classics like Them!, Night of the Lepus and The Killer Shrews all clearly demonstrate the potentially deadly off-target effects of science on ants, rabbits and shrews, respectively. While we wait for the technology to be perfected, it’s not a bad idea to stock up on oat milk . Via Future Human Image via Michael Pujals

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Will gene editing and cloning create super cows that resist global warming?

100 pilot whales rescued after mass stranding in Sri Lanka

November 6, 2020 by  
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When more than 100 pilot whales washed up on a Sri Lankan beach, heroic volunteers spent all night helping these marine mammals get past the waves and safely back to sea. They managed to save at least 100 whales, although five died at the scene. The short-finned pilot whales landed in Panadura, a town about 20 miles from Colombo, the nation’s capital. Local fishermen first noticed the beached whales in the early afternoon of November 2. “They first appeared as a dark patch in the horizon and kept on moving toward the shore like a giant wave,” said fisherman Upul Ranjith, as reported in Mongabay . But as volunteers tried to push the whales back into the water, the animals continued to wash back up on the beach. Related: Record number of pilot whales get stranded, die in Tasmania The reason the whales beached themselves is still undetermined. Pilot whales are known for extremely sociable, pack behavior. When one strays too close to shore, others may follow. It’s possible that a joint naval exercise involving India, Japan, Australia and the U.S. might have disrupted the whales’ sonar. Short-finned pilot whales measure about 12 to 18 feet in length and are especially prone to beaching en masse. Twenty-eight people from the local coast guard station and dozens of local volunteers worked together in the whale rescue operation. The COVID-19 lockdown complicated matters, as participants had to get special curfew passes. “Rescuing these animals is not just about rolling them out to sea again,” marine mammal expert Asha de Vos told Mongabay. “It’s a little more complicated than that as it is important to refloat the animals as soon as possible and guide them back to deeper waters to prevent them getting pushed back to the shore.” De Vos likened the whales’ efforts to get past waves and return to open sea as being stuck on a treadmill for hours. Personal watercraft owners saved the day. They were enlisted to tow the animals out to sea — a dangerous proposition both for the whales and the rescuers. The entire mission took about 16 hours, but the ending was — for the most part — a happy one. Via Mongabay Image via Bernhard Stärck

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100 pilot whales rescued after mass stranding in Sri Lanka

Vegan hotel in Scotland wins National Geographic Award

October 27, 2020 by  
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Scotland’s first vegan  hotel  opened in June 2019, and it’s already winning awards. National Geographic just bestowed a “Good Egg” award on the  Saorsa 1875  for its commitment to sustainability. The 11-room Victorian lodging features vegan dining, upcycled furniture, eco cleaning products and runs on renewable energy. Sandra McLaren-Stewart and her son Jack head the Scottish getaway. “We wanted to create a space where everybody— vegans  and otherwise—can come together to celebrate the incredible innovation and diversity that we’re seeing across the movement,” Sandra said. “This isn’t about abstinence or sacrifice, it’s an environment where guests can experience amazing food, drink, and design that doesn’t come at the expense of our fellow animals.” Related: Hong Kong welcomes Veda, the first vegetarian restaurant inside upscale hotel Ovolo The Saorsa resides in Highland Perthshire in central  Scotland . Rich in culture and history, this area boasts gorgeous landscapes. Scottish monarchs used to soak up the beauty of the green hills and rivers from their Perthshire residence, Scone Palace. The vegan hotel sits nestled within two acres of woodlands and overlooks the town of Pitlochry. The 11 rooms of the 19th-century baronial house feature individual styles, antique furnishings and luxury linens. Each room’s name comes from a different local animal , such as the golden eagle, water vole and lynx. One is even named after the very Scottish-sounding western capercaillie, known to Americans as the wood grouse. A lot of attention goes into the Saorsa’s dining. Australian chef Deborah Fleck changes the menu daily and cooks five-course set meals featuring local organic produce, some from on-site  gardens . Meals are served communally, with guests encouraged to share stories and get to know one another. With carbon offset in mind, the Saorsa contracts with Green Earth Appeal to plant a tree for every dinner served. Faodail, the hotel  bar , mixes up innovative cocktails. Guests can try the ginger laddie, a combination of Bruichladdich classic laddie, Port Charlotte, Oloroso sherry, sweet vermouth and orange bitters. The auld pal features Copper Dog whisky, Cointreau, sweet vermouth, strawberries and verbena. The hotel offers some fun weekend packages planned for Christmas and Hogmanay — New Year’s Eve to Americans. The three-night  Christmas  weekend starts with a champagne cocktail welcome reception and includes special meals, a Christmas film, guided walk and cocktail master class. The four-night Hogmanay extravaganza begins on December 30th and features similar activities, plus a street party in Pitlochry, afternoon tea and a New Year countdown. Groups can take over all 11 rooms of the Saorsa for special events. Corporate getaways, wedding receptions, family gatherings and  yoga  retreats will all enjoy the Saorsa’s combination of Victorian elegance and luxurious modern amenities. + Saorsa 1875 Via VegNews Images via Saorsa 1875

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Can robot dolphins replace real ones in marine parks?

October 19, 2020 by  
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Proponents of swimming with dolphins cite the thrill of feeling a human-animal connection that verges on spiritual and even claim health benefits like reducing stress and boosting T cells. Animal rights supporters claim that promoting dolphin swims is cruel, unnatural, unsafe for people, and ruins dolphin family life. But what if you could swim with robot  dolphins ?  U.S. engineering company Edge Innovations has designed an animatronic dolphin that just might satisfy people’s urge to interact with the marine mammal. The faux dolphins are remote control-operated, cost between 3 and 5 million dollars and are surprisingly lifelike. Related: Free at last: Canada passes Act to prohibit dolphin and whale captivity “When I first saw the dolphin, I thought it could be real,” said a woman who swam with an animatronic dolphin in Hayward,  California . Walt Conti, CEO of Edge Innovations, hopes that animatronic creatures could stand-in for the real thing in theme parks; dolphins are just the beginning. Swimmers could safely  swim  with robotic great white sharks or even recreations of deadly prehistoric sea creatures. Edge has a proven track record for such creations. The company built the animatronic stars of “Anaconda,” “Free Willy” and “Deep Blue Sea.” “There are like 3,000 dolphins currently in captivity being used to generate several billions of dollars just for dolphin experiences. And so there’s obviously an appetite to love and learn about dolphins,” said Conti. “We want to use that appetite and offer kind of different ways to fall in love with the dolphin.” He suggests that people opposed to the treatment of captive dolphins might return to a theme park to see  robots . This animatronic initiative could have worldwide appeal. Twenty  European  countries that have limited or banned the use of wild animals in circuses could welcome robotic dolphins and other critters. Will an encounter with a fake dolphin satisfy people’s desire for interspecies connection with  wildlife ? It obviously won’t be the same. But keep in mind, captive dolphins aren’t really smiling. Their faces are just made that way. Via Reuters Image via Pexels

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Preparing COVID-19 vaccine could kill half a million sharks

October 7, 2020 by  
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Scientists are racing against time to create a COVID-19 vaccine, but the effects of this venture may cause irreversible harm for sharks . Conservationists estimate that preparing a coronavirus vaccine will require at least half a million sharks. Such numbers would push some shark species to extinction. Squalene, a compound that regulates shark buoyancy in water, is primarily found in shark liver oil. Vital for boosting the human body’s immunity, this compound factors heavily into vaccine preparation. Since 1997, squalene has been used to prepare flu vaccines, and the CDC recommends squalene due to its safety record. The compound also helps reduce the amount of vaccine needed per individual. Additionally, a  Science Times  publication reports that squalene makes vaccines more effective.  Although squalene also occurs in plants, humans and other animals, sharks contain the highest volume of this important compound. For this reason, hundreds of thousands of sharks risk losing their lives to the vaccine cause. According to shark advocacy group  Shark Allies , five of the top COVID-19 vaccines being prepared use shark squalene. The organization has petitioned vaccine developers from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration , China and Europe to exclude the compound from their vaccines. The organization encourages developers to use shark-based squalene alternatives. According to a  Sky News report , a leading British pharmaceutical company that uses shark squalene plans to harvest a billion doses of the compound for use in potential coronavirus vaccines by May 2021. Stefanie Brendl, executive director of Shark Allies, says that the process of harvesting this compound is killing sharks. “It’s called harvesting , but really you’re not growing it, you’re taking it from the wild,” Brendl said. “It’s a limited resource.” If the compound is used to prepare a COVID-19 vaccine, the world could pay a serious ecological price. “It’s something we need to get ahead of ASAP, because we are facing many years of vaccine production, for a global population, for many more coronavirus vaccines to come,” Brendl said. “The real danger is in what this can turn into in the future. A reliance on shark oil for a global vaccine — it’s truly insane. A wild animal is not a reliable source and cannot sustain ongoing commercial pressure.” Via EcoWatch Image via Pixabay

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Preparing COVID-19 vaccine could kill half a million sharks

Get ready for the next wave of GMOs

October 2, 2020 by  
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Get ready for the next wave of GMOs Jim Giles Fri, 10/02/2020 – 02:00 One summer day almost 20 years ago, a group of protestors arrived at a plot of genetically modified corn growing near the town of Montelimar in southern France. They were led by José Bové , a left-wing activist famous for his skirmishes with the law and his tremendous moustache. Using machetes and shears, the protestors uprooted the crops and dumped the debris outside the offices of the regional government. I thought about Bové this week as I read a new report on the next generation of genetic food technology . The techniques in the report make the processes that Bové opposed look clunky. The GMOs he destroyed were created by inserting genes from other organisms — say a stretch of DNA that confers resistance to a particular herbicide — into a plant’s genome. This brute force approach is time-consuming and hard to control. Now scientists are using a new suite of gene-editing techniques, including a process known as CRISPR, to rapidly and precisely control the behavior of specific plant genes.  Gene-edited crops already exist. Scientists at the biotech firm Corteva, for example, have developed a high-yield strain of a variety of corn used in food additives and adhesives. Yet these initial advances belie the technology’s potential. Is there a way that civil society, government and businesses can come together to prioritize development of gene-edited crops that deliver social and environmental benefits as well as economic ones? The power of gene editing can be wielded to modify plants and, among other things, achieve significant sustainability wins. Here are a few potential outcomes explored in the new report, published by the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation , a pro-technology think tank: Dramatic reductions in waste, made possible by engineering crops to produce food products that last longer on the shelf and are less susceptible to pests.  Lower greenhouse gas emissions from cattle, after CRISPR is used to alter the genetic activity of the methane-producing microbes that live in the animals’ stomachs. Reductions to the hundreds of millions of tons of methane emitted annually from rice production, thanks to new gene-edited rice strains. Increases in the carbon-sequestering power of crops, made possible by engineered arieties that put down deeper root systems. This potential is thrilling, and there are signs that it will arrive soon. In China, where the government has made a big bet on gene-editing technology , numerous labs are working on crop strains that require less pesticides, herbicides and water. In the United States, a small but growing group of gene-editing startups is bringing new varieties to market, including an oilseed plant that can be used as a carbon-sequestering cover crop during the winter .  Yet when I read the ITIF report, I thought of Bové. Not because I agree with everything he said. Twenty years and many studies later, we know that the anti-GMO activists were wrong to say that modified crops posed a threat to human health. (The demonization of GMOs had profound consequences nonetheless: Fears about the risks posed by the crops are one reason why the crops are highly restricted in Europe and viewed warily by some consumers on both sides of the Atlantic.) The reason I thought of Bové is that, at one level, he and other activists were pushing society to take a broader view of GMOs. They wanted people to ask who and what the crops were for, because they believed, rightly, that the crops were produced mainly with the profits of ag companies in mind. That’s not to say it’s a bad thing for ag companies to be profitable. But our food systems affect so many aspects of our lives — from the composition of the atmosphere to the prevalence of disease. When GMOs first began to be planted, there hadn’t been enough debate about how the technology might affect these things. No wonder people were angry. That’s a lesson I hope we can remember as gene editing shapes agriculture. Is there a way that civil society, government and businesses can come together to prioritize development of gene-edited crops that deliver social and environmental benefits as well as economic ones? If they can, we might end up with crops that everyone wants. This article was adapted from the GreenBiz Food Weekly newsletter. Sign up here to receive your own free subscription. Pull Quote Is there a way that civil society, government and businesses can come together to prioritize development of gene-edited crops that deliver social and environmental benefits as well as economic ones? Topics Food & Agriculture GMO Featured Column Foodstuff Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Shutterstock Andriano Close Authorship

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Get ready for the next wave of GMOs

Get ready for the next wave of GMOs

October 2, 2020 by  
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Get ready for the next wave of GMOs Jim Giles Fri, 10/02/2020 – 02:00 One summer day almost 20 years ago, a group of protestors arrived at a plot of genetically modified corn growing near the town of Montelimar in southern France. They were led by José Bové , a left-wing activist famous for his skirmishes with the law and his tremendous moustache. Using machetes and shears, the protestors uprooted the crops and dumped the debris outside the offices of the regional government. I thought about Bové this week as I read a new report on the next generation of genetic food technology . The techniques in the report make the processes that Bové opposed look clunky. The GMOs he destroyed were created by inserting genes from other organisms — say a stretch of DNA that confers resistance to a particular herbicide — into a plant’s genome. This brute force approach is time-consuming and hard to control. Now scientists are using a new suite of gene-editing techniques, including a process known as CRISPR, to rapidly and precisely control the behavior of specific plant genes.  Gene-edited crops already exist. Scientists at the biotech firm Corteva, for example, have developed a high-yield strain of a variety of corn used in food additives and adhesives. Yet these initial advances belie the technology’s potential. Is there a way that civil society, government and businesses can come together to prioritize development of gene-edited crops that deliver social and environmental benefits as well as economic ones? The power of gene editing can be wielded to modify plants and, among other things, achieve significant sustainability wins. Here are a few potential outcomes explored in the new report, published by the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation , a pro-technology think tank: Dramatic reductions in waste, made possible by engineering crops to produce food products that last longer on the shelf and are less susceptible to pests.  Lower greenhouse gas emissions from cattle, after CRISPR is used to alter the genetic activity of the methane-producing microbes that live in the animals’ stomachs. Reductions to the hundreds of millions of tons of methane emitted annually from rice production, thanks to new gene-edited rice strains. Increases in the carbon-sequestering power of crops, made possible by engineered arieties that put down deeper root systems. This potential is thrilling, and there are signs that it will arrive soon. In China, where the government has made a big bet on gene-editing technology , numerous labs are working on crop strains that require less pesticides, herbicides and water. In the United States, a small but growing group of gene-editing startups is bringing new varieties to market, including an oilseed plant that can be used as a carbon-sequestering cover crop during the winter .  Yet when I read the ITIF report, I thought of Bové. Not because I agree with everything he said. Twenty years and many studies later, we know that the anti-GMO activists were wrong to say that modified crops posed a threat to human health. (The demonization of GMOs had profound consequences nonetheless: Fears about the risks posed by the crops are one reason why the crops are highly restricted in Europe and viewed warily by some consumers on both sides of the Atlantic.) The reason I thought of Bové is that, at one level, he and other activists were pushing society to take a broader view of GMOs. They wanted people to ask who and what the crops were for, because they believed, rightly, that the crops were produced mainly with the profits of ag companies in mind. That’s not to say it’s a bad thing for ag companies to be profitable. But our food systems affect so many aspects of our lives — from the composition of the atmosphere to the prevalence of disease. When GMOs first began to be planted, there hadn’t been enough debate about how the technology might affect these things. No wonder people were angry. That’s a lesson I hope we can remember as gene editing shapes agriculture. Is there a way that civil society, government and businesses can come together to prioritize development of gene-edited crops that deliver social and environmental benefits as well as economic ones? If they can, we might end up with crops that everyone wants. This article was adapted from the GreenBiz Food Weekly newsletter. Sign up here to receive your own free subscription. Pull Quote Is there a way that civil society, government and businesses can come together to prioritize development of gene-edited crops that deliver social and environmental benefits as well as economic ones? Topics Food & Agriculture GMO Featured Column Foodstuff Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Shutterstock Andriano Close Authorship

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Get ready for the next wave of GMOs

Rare dolphin species spotted in the Adriatic Sea

August 26, 2020 by  
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The Delphinus delphis , an uncommon dolphin species, has been repeatedly spotted in the Adriatic Sea. According to recent research led by marine scientists at the University of St Andrews, the rare dolphin has been observed multiple times off the coasts of Italy and Slovenia. The research was done in collaboration with Morigenos Slovenian Marine Mammal Society with a goal to determine the occurrence of common dolphins in the Gulf of Trieste and the Northern Adriatic Sea. The findings of the study, published in the journal Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems , came as a shock to many scientists, given that Delphinus delphis was considered regionally extinct in the Adriatic Sea. The decline in Delphinus delphis numbers in the Adriatic Sea can be traced back to misinformed policies put in place by Italy and former Yugoslavia in the mid-20th century. At the time, this species of dolphin was considered a pest to the fishing industry. The two countries encouraged people to kill these dolphins for monetary reward to reduce competition for fish. In the 1970s, the number of Delphinus delphis dropped significantly, leading to the species being listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List. Besides the direct killing of the species, increased fishing activities have also led to a reduction in the number of dolphins in the Adriatic Sea. Related: Lapsed fishing moratorium endangers Amazon river dolphins Over the past 30 years, Delphinus delphis have been very rare in this area, leading to speculations that they might be regionally extinct . However, the recent findings show that Delphinus delphis are showing up more regularly, with four animals spotted repeatedly over a 4-year span. The research, conducted through photo-identification, also shows that some of the dolphins spotted in the Adriatic Sea had traveled as far as 1,000 kilometers. “Unfortunately, the species continues to be rare in the region. It is difficult to say if the species is likely to make a comeback to the Adriatic Sea,” said Tilen Genov, leader of the research team and member of the Sea Mammal Research Unit for University of St Andrews. “The chances for that are likely slim, as there is currently no evidence of any increase in common dolphin abundance or sightings anywhere in the Mediterranean Sea. But hopefully, this contribution can serve as a baseline and encourage potential future cases to be reported, in order to provide further insights into the occurrence of common dolphins in the region.” + Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems Image via University of St Andrews

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