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SCIENCE

What you need to know about the hundreds of dead dolphins washing up on French beaches

Since the beginning of the year alone, a record number of up just over 1,000 dolphins have washed up on France's Atlantic coast. So what's going on?

What you need to know about the hundreds of dead dolphins washing up on French beaches
Illustration photo: AFP
What's the story?
 
Since the start of 2019, around 1,080 have washed up on beaches along France's Atlantic coast. 
 
“We've had around 1,200 small cetaceans along the coast” of the Bay of Biscay, of which more than 90 percent were common dolphins, biologist Olivier Van Canneyt told AFP.
 
The observatory he works for said the number of dead dolphins had set a record each year since 2017, and warned that the species could be wiped out in the area.
   
“There were two peaks in mid-February and mid-March linked to currents that are stronger at that time owing to low-pressure conditions,” noted Van Canneyt, a specialist in sea mammals and birds.
 
Illustration photo: AFP
   
The observatory said that around 85 perecent of the dolphin carcasses that could be examined bore traces of accidental capture, while noting that almost three times as many dead dolphins had likely not even reached the coast.
   
Dolphins and porpoises can be caught in fishing nets and suffocated when they hunt for sea bass and whiting at the same time as fishing fleets, especially during winter months in the region.
   
The number of dolphins that wash up on the coast has increased this year despite efforts by the observatory to warn the mammals of a human presence by using acoustic “pingers”.
 
Environment Minister Francois de Rugy said in March that he would unveil a plan to limit such deaths “by the end of the year”.
 
The dolphins have been washing up on the stretch of Atlantic coast running all the way from southern Brittany to the Spanish border with large numbers of carcasses found in the departments of Vendée and in the Charentes Maritimes. 
 
Scientists say these numbers are only the tip of the iceberg as many when dolphins die, many just sink to the bottom of the ocean or are washed out to sea rather than ending up on the beaches.
 
These deaths could also threaten the dolphin populations in the years to come, researchers say.
 
 
 
 
 
Why is this happening?
 
Although hundreds of dead dolphins wash up on French beaches every year, this is a record number so early on in the year. 
 
Most of the dead dolphins found bear injury marks which researchers say are caused by big fishing boats and the large fishing nets they use. 
 
“Among the carcasses found, 93 percent show signs that they have been captured by fishing vessels and their equipment such as mutilations, amputations and fractured jaws,” according to the French environmental charity France Nature Environnement (FNE). 
 
The dolphins get caught in the vast nets used to catch fish like hake and sea bass, which the dolphins like to eat. Some of these nets are fixed in the sea bed and when dolphins get stuck in them, they can't come up for air to breathe and they suffocate. 
 
Trawlers are also a problem as they drag large fishing nets behind them which dolphins also get caught in and suffer injuries and die. When they get stuck, dolphins panic, and the stress can also kill them.
 
 
 
 
 
Is there a solution?
 
An obvious solution would be to reduce the number of large fishing vessels.
 
Environmental organisations want the number of big trawlers and other large fishing boats – which belong mainly to French and Spanish fleets – allowed to fish in those waters to be cut immediately. They are calling for a better coordination between the French and Spanish governments to find a solution to the problem. 
 
They also want observers to be allowed to board these vessels to control the fishing practices, but in practice, they say this isn't happening as the boats are reticent to do so.
 
Other solutions include putting acoustic 'repellents' on boats to keep the dolphins away. These are called 'pingers' and this year, for the first time all the large-scale French pelagic trawlers, which drag a net called the trawl at the stern of the vessel until the net is full, were equipped with some.
 
But given the record numbers of dolphin deaths this year already, the pingers seem to have little effect. 
 
FNE has pointed out that one of the problems could be that the pingers are not attached to the large nets on the sea beds, where many dolphins get caught.
 
by Emilie King

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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Snobs, beaches and drunks – 5 things this joke map teaches us about France

A popular joke 'map' of France has once again been widely shared on social media, sparking endless jokes at the expense of certain regions of France.

Snobs, beaches and drunks - 5 things this joke map teaches us about France
Image AFP/cartesfrance.fr
But while the map – created by cartesfrance.fr – is clearly intended to be comic, it teaches us some important points about France’s regional divides, local stereotypes and in-jokes.
 

 
 
 
Here are some of the key points.
 
1. Everyone hates Parisians
 
The map is purportedly France as seen through the eyes of Parisians, and contains a series of snobbish and rude generalisations about every part of France that is not maison (home) in the capital and its surroundings. The great majority of the country is labelled simply as paysans (peasants).
 
The general stereotype about Parisians is that they are snobs, rudely judging the rest of the country which they regard as backwards and full of ploucs (yokels) apart from small areas which make nice holiday destinations.
 
Like all sweeping generalisations, this is true of some people and very much not of others, but one of the few things that can unite people from all areas of France is how much they hate les parigots têtes de veaux (a colloquialism that very roughly translates as ‘asshole Parisians’)
 
 
2. Staycations rule
 
Even before Covid-related travel restrictions, holidaying within France was the norm for many French people.
 
As the map shows, Parisians regard the southern and western coastlines as simply plages (beaches) which they decamp to for at least a month in July or August. In the height of summer French cities tend to empty out (apart from tourists) as locals head to the seaside or the countryside.
 
 
In winter the Pyrenees and Alps are popular ski destinations.
 
3. Northerners like a drink
 
There is a very widespread stereotype, although not really backed up by evidence, that the people of Normandy, Brittany and the Nord area like a drink or two. Many suggest this is to cope with the weather, which does tend to be rainier than the rest of France (although has plenty of sunshine too).
 
 
Official health data doesn’t really back this up, as none of these areas show a significantly greater than average rate of daily drinkers, although Nord does hold the sad record for the highest rate of people dying from alcohol-related liver disease.
 
What’s certainly true is that Brittany and Normandy are cider country, with delicious locally-produced ciders on sale everywhere, well worth a try if you are visiting.
 
 
4. Poverty
 
The map labels the north eastern corner of France as simply pauvres – the poor.
 
The north east of the country was once France’s industrial and coal-mining heartland, and as traditional industries have declined there are indeed pockets of extreme poverty and high unemployment. The novel The End of Eddy, telling the story of novelist Edouard Louis’ childhood in a struggling small town near Amiens, lays out the social problems of such areas in stark detail.
 
However poverty is not just confined to one corner of France and the département that records the highest levels of deprivation is actually Seine-Saint-Denis in the Paris suburbs.
 
5. Southern prejudice
 
According to the map, those from the south are either branleurs (slackers) or menteurs (liars). 
 
This isn’t true, obviously, there are many lovely, hard-working and truthful people in southern France, but the persistent stereotype is that they are lazy – maybe because it’s too hot to do much work – and slightly shifty.
 
Even people who aren’t actually rude about southerners can be pretty patronising, as shown when south west native Jean Castex became the prime minister in summer 2020. 
 
Castex has a noticeable south west accent which sparked much comment from the Paris-based media and political classes, with comments ranging from the patronising – “I love his accent, I feel like I’m on holiday” – to the very patronising – “that accent is a bit rugby” (a reference to the fact that TV rugby commentators often come from France’s rugby heartlands in the south west).
 
 
In his first year as PM, Castex has undertaken a dizzying schedule of appointments around the four corners of France, so hopefully the lazy myth can now be put to bed.
 
And anyone tempted to take the piss out of his accent – glottophobie (accent prejudice) is now a crime in France.
 
For more maps that reflect France, head to cartesfrance.fr
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