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Dolphin carcasses autopsied at Massey University

Massey University

New Zealand

1st February 2002

Seven dolphins that washed up dead in the food-rich French Pass area of the Marlborough Sounds drowned after being caught in nets. Conservation Department Sounds area manager Roy Grose said they had probably been caught in set nets. Environmentalists also blamed set nets, and called for a ban on all such nets in the Sounds. Mr Grose said autopsies carried out at Massey University showed marks and bruises on the dolphins' bodies that were consistent with those caused by set nets.

The findings had been reported to the Fisheries Ministry, which was investigating. "We are very concerned about the deaths of these dolphins, as are others," Mr Grose said. Six dolphins were washed up together in Admiralty Bay last month. A seventh, thought to be part of the same pod, was discovered several days later. Mr Grose, who has worked in the Marlborough Sounds for 12 years, said he had never heard of dolphins being washed up there before. French Pass, in the outer Sounds, was rich in food sources, and hosted many orcas and common and bottle-nosed dolphin.

The six dolphin carcasses were sent to Massey University's Wildlife Health Centre, which is directed by marine mammal researcher Padraig Duignan. The autopsies were overseen by forensic pathologist Associate Professor Maurice Alley. The seventh carcass was too badly decomposed to be sent for autopsy.

Marine mammal researcher Nadine Gibbs said the six dead dolphins comprised two lactating females and four calves. One calf was only about two weeks old. It still had hair on its snout and fetal folds in its skin, as a result of its being in its mother's uterus. Another had milk teeth in its upper jaw but no teeth in its lower jaw, indicating it was less than six months old.