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In the fauna of Ukraine, marine mammals of the Black and Azov Seas are represented by three species of cetaceans: harbor porpoise, Black Sea bottlenose dolphin, common dolphin, and Mediterranean monk seal. In the 50s of the XX century, the population of dolphins of all three species in the Black Sea was estimated at 2 million individuals of the species. By the mid-1960s, due to the intensive dolphin industry, their number decreased to 300 thousand individuals. In the 1980s, the population was estimated at 60-100 thousand, which showed a sharp decline in the populations of these animals.
In 2018-2019, at least 253 000 dolphins lived in the Black and Azov Seas: 41,000 Bottlenose dolphins, 118,000 ordinary dolphins, and 94,000 harbor porpoises.
Security Status of Dolphins
In the red book of Ukraine, the harbor porpoise “Azovka” is recorded with the status “disappearing”, and the usual dolphin and affine have the status “vulnerable”. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classification, the Black Sea subspecies Phocoena phocoena relicta Abel, 1905, and the Black Sea subspecies Tursiops truncatus Ponticus Barabash-Nikiforov 1940 have the status of Endanger (EN). The Black Sea subspecies of Delphinus delphis Ponticus Barabasch, 1935 has the status of “vulnerable” (VU). Protected under the Agreement on the Conservation of the Cetaceans of the Black Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, and the adjacent Atlantic Ocean (ACCOBAMS); by Annex II of the Convention on the Protection of Wild Flora and Fauna and Natural Environment of Existence in Europe (Berlin Convention), Annex II of the Convention on the Conservation of moving species of Wild Animals (Bonn Convention), Annex II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES); by Annex IV of Directive 92/43/EC on the preservation of natural habitats of existence and wild flora and fauna (Oselishchna Directive). To the decisions of the conference of CITES parties, international trade in black-sea bottlenose dolphins caught from wild nature is prohibited when transporting obligatory genetic identification of individuals.
Negative Factors Impacting The Dolphins Before The Full-Scale War
At the beginning of February 2022, on Internet resources, it was reported that Russia is closing the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov under the guise of exercises. Russia completely covered half of the territory of the Sea of Azov during that period, having closed the possibility of leaving ports in Berdyansk and Mariupol vessels to the Black Sea. In the Black Sea, all international routes of connection with Ukrainian seaports were also closed by the Russians.
Russia engaged the fleet of 20 ships and 10 submarines, which maneuvered not far from Odesa and the national natural park “Tuzlivski limani”. According to Naval News and DEFENSE EXPRESS, the Russian Fleet with landing ships and missile cruiser “Moscow”, as well as the submarines, used powerful sonar systems.
Sea animals of the Black and Azov Seas struggled with this the most, as they have no control over of the situation. Therefore, they are not just vulnerable but doomed to survival in the conditions of supraoptic natural defense and non-selective random delivery. And among them, the most vulnerable during the war were Black Sea cetaceans.
Impact of Russian Military in the Black and Azov Seas During War
Noise affects the lives of man and animals. Excessive noise can cause temporary or permanent hearing loss in many wild animals. Noise can also cause stress and upset the balance of victim detection by predators and cause another imbalance in ecosystems of wild nature. The effect of noise on animals increases the risk of premature death and may lead to the death of whales and dolphins through the influence of military hydro locators. Analyzing literary sources, we have assured that a powerful noise load leads to the large-scale destruction of morpho-physiological properties of cetaceans.
Detonations of mines, rocket launchings, and sonar use by Russian Naval Forces create a noise level higher than the threshold of pain in mammals. The noise level could reach 140 dB or more. Such a situation with sound overloading in the Black Sea, as never, created critical and lethal conditions for cetaceans. Many of the corpses of dolphins are thrown onto the coast of Odesa, but most of them are absorbed in the bottom of the seas. This is only part of this terrible problem.
Another problem for the Black Sea that comes from the noisy load is the delay of death of animals due to the disinformation of families and the flock of dolphins. This is caused by a sharp decrease in fertility from the resulting stresses. Long-term mental injuries will affect behavior, territorial distribution, the spectrum of nutrition, and sensitivity to the activators of various diseases. This may lead to the complete death of the Black Sea cetaceans populations unless urgent measures are taken to preserve them. Dolphins are unable to recover because they received not compatible life acoustic, physiological, psychological trauma, and caisson disease from the Russians, and in general— from military actions in the Black Sea.
Additionally, cetaceans get sick as a result of powerful injury from sonars and bombing, which led to the loss of the natural opportunities for animals to use echolocation to search for food, and as a result, lost weight and immunity.
About 50,000 dolphins died in 2022 because Russian Naval Forces use the Black Sea for military purposes. There have never been so many dead sea mammals as during the active phase of the Russian war against Ukraine on the Black Sea (March-August 2022)
In 2022, about 3,000 dead cetaceans on the Black Sea coast were registered. Various scientific data, as well as modeling of processes of the ocean’s tuna fishing on the shore, indicate that in the middle sea, or ocean, only 5 percent of dead animals (95 percent drowning in the ocean or ocean); we estimate that during the war died at least.
If we do not make such an important step as the creation of reserve water for detox, we, in the post-war time, can lose dolphins, as we once lost the seal monk in the Black Sea. And to create such a safe reserve for the cetaceans in the Black Sea, where the dolphins could be reproduced in natural conditions, is the direct duty of our state. And that’s why:
According to the Law of Ukraine “on the Red Book of Ukraine,” monitoring of red-book animals populations is obligatory; priority is the creation of reserves and other types of protected areas in places of rare and endangered species of animals and on ways of their migration, considering special protection requirements during the assessment of environmental impact, etc.;
The text of the Agreement on the Conservation of the China-shaped Black Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, and the adjacent Atlantic Ocean, to which Ukraine joined in 1996, clearly states that “the cetaceans are an integral part of the marine ecosystem, which must be preserved for present and future generations” and that “their preservation is a common concern…”. Article II, paragraph 1 — objectives and measures for Conservation – states that “the Parties shall take coordinated measures to achieve and maintain the favorable status of Conservation of cetaceans…and cooperate in the direction of creation and maintenance of a network of territories subject to special protection, with the purpose of preservation of cetaceans”;
In the Action Plan on the Study and Protection of Marine Mammals (several Cetacea and Pinnipedia) of the Black and Azov Seas in Ukraine, approved by the order of the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources of Ukraine dated 28.12.2020 no. 393, in p . 2.5, clearly stated. “Creation and expansion of territories and objects of the natural reserve fund in the waters of the Black and Azov Seas”;
It is important to understand that we, as a state, have already committed ourselves at different times to the same steps. Moreover, the Agreement on Association of Ukraine with the EU and according to the Law of Ukraine “on Basic Principles (Strategy) of the State Environmental Policy of Ukraine for the period until 2030” (from February 28, 2019 № 2697-VIII) states that:
“…Conditions will be created in Ukraine to create a representative and effectively managed system of territories and objects of the nature reserve fund.” And there are indicators of the implementation of such state environmental policy. For example, the area of the natural reserve fund (percent of the total territory of the country) from 6.3 percent, which is now — up to 10.4 percent in 2020 to 12,5 in 2025 and up to 15 percent in 2030;
Therefore, to preserve and reproduce the Black Sea cetaceans and other species, to increase the representativeness of the natural reserve fund, to increase its area and share of the reserve, to optimize the protection of the objects of the Black Sea Fleet in Odesa region and Ukraine as a whole, we have proposed to expand the territory of the national natural park “Tuzlovsky Liman” at the expense of areas of the Black Sea water area, which have still preserved their environmental and ecological value for the moment. For this purpose, Park has already sent a scientific substantiation to the Ministry of Environment. The Ministry of Environment approved the offer of the Park and sent it to Odessa OVA for approval. We expect the Presidential Decree on the creation of such a marine reserve for the preservation of cetaceans.
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