Research Topic

People – Marine mammal interactions

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Human activities have many effects on marine mammals. These can be broadly divided into deliberate and incidental. Impacts that humans cause incidentally to our primary purposes in the seas and oceans include those mediated through noise and disturbance, for example from seismic surveys, other offshore ...

Human activities have many effects on marine mammals. These can be broadly divided into deliberate and incidental. Impacts that humans cause incidentally to our primary purposes in the seas and oceans include those mediated through noise and disturbance, for example from seismic surveys, other offshore industrial activities and boat traffic. Fishing operations incidentally entangle and kill large numbers of marine mammals all across the world and, in some instances, and nets are sometimes deliberately set to catch dolphins because of the valuable fish that can be found in association with them.

Some of our human activities are more directly focused on exploiting the marine mammals themselves, including ongoing commercial and ‘scientific’ whaling, drive-hunting of small cetaceans, for example in Japan and the Faroe Islands, and various takes of pinnipeds. In addition, some marine mammals are still taken from the wild for public exhibition. Whale and dolphin watching exploits wild populations and there are growing concerns about the threats that it poses, including of displacement. Marine mammals, as top predators are also especially vulnerable to bioaccumulation of persistent pollutants and, in addition, there are increasing reports of entanglement and ingestion of marine debris.

Marine mammals can be expected to modify their behaviours, geographical movements and reproductive strategies to some extent in response to human activities but there are limits to their adaptability and negative effects on marine mammal welfare, effects on animal disease incidence, an inability to maintain population numbers, or increases in negative interactions with man are the result. However, marine mammal-human interactions are not invariably negative – the potential for increases in marine protected areas, a shift from hunting to whale watching (and other ‘less invasive’ marine mammal observation businesses) can be seen as ‘rebalancing moves’ where man can see that lethal exploitation of marine mammals is not the only way to interact with these animal. Many initiatives in marine mammals focus on ‘damage limitation’ and the future management of the interactions (of many sorts) between animals and marine mammals will require holistic thinking, rather than wholly single issue action, if the aim is to shift the balance from ‘generally negative’ through ‘damage limitation’ to ‘positive’. This topic will bring together recognised expertise and facilitate authors who can provide incisive information on the compelling balance between negative, and potentially positive, influences of man on marine mammals.


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