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  Yahoo News 29 Oct 07
Iran alarmed by mass dolphin deaths

The mysterious "mass suicide" of 152 dolphins washed up on Iran's coast over the past month has alarmed environmentalists, with the blame pointed at regional fishing practices, officials said on Monday.

In September, 79 striped dolphins were found washed up near Jask port in southern Iran, and last week another 73 were found dead in the same area.

Pictures of rows of the corpses have been widely featured in Iranian newspapers, which said the dolphins had "committed suicide" -- behaviour the animals have occasionally exhibited in the wild.

"The suicide of dolphins on Jask's coast continues," Iran's state run-newspaper wrote on Saturday. "Locals tried to put the animals back in the water but they refused to return."

Concern over the deaths of these highly intelligent mammals prompted Iran's environmental protection authorities to show reporters the cut and bruised corpse of a dolphin to explain the "suicides".

Mohammad Baqer Nabavi, deputy head of Iran's environmental protection organisation in charge of marine biology, said the most likely explanation was that the dolphins drowned after becoming entangled in fishing nets.

"We are basing our hypothesis for the suicide on fishing -- either nets left at the bottom of the Persian Gulf or the big fishing nets that ships spread to catch different kinds of fish," Nabavi said.

"As you know, they are marine animals but they need to come up to surface and breathe."

It was unlikely that the deaths were caused by pollution, with no traces found in the tissue of the dolphins examined a month ago, he said.

"We did not spot any kind of pollution in their digestive system that could have been caused from eating poisoned fish, and we also have not spotted any viruses or parasites," he said.

Striped dolphins are normally found in temperate and tropical waters.

Related articles on dolphins, whales, other cetaceans and large fishes.
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