At least nine dolphins stranded on the coast of Mauritius on Wednesday, where they died, an AFP journalist found, which raised questions about a possible link with the oil spill that struck the same region in early August.
• Read also: The oil spill in Mauritius, a long-term threat to the coral
These Electra dolphins, some of whom were in agony when they were found, have been spotted on the beaches of Grand-Sable, in the southeast of this island in the Indian Ocean. A few appeared to have sustained injuries.
An AFP journalist counted nine dolphins. A fisherman and city councilor of Grand-Sable, Preetam Daumoo, for his part told AFP to have seen 13, including one still alive.
Authorities have removed the bodies of the dolphins for autopsies, but have not yet commented on the matter.
Like other residents, Daumoo said he feared the deaths were the result of the oil spill caused earlier this month by the grounding a few kilometers south of the bulk carrier MV Wakashio.
This boat struck a reef at Pointe d’Esny on July 25. The wreckage broke in two, three weeks later, after a race against time to pump out the fuel it still contained.
The ship let out at least 1,000 tons of fuel oil from its sides, which soiled the coasts – including protected areas home to mangrove forests and endangered species – and the crystal-clear waters that attracted many tourists before the coronavirus pandemic.
But Owen Griffiths, an expert from the NGO Mauritius Marine Conservation Society interviewed by AFP, said it was too early to determine the cause of the death of the dolphins.
“It’s probably a very unfortunate coincidence,” he observed, referring to a similar incident that occurred in 2005.
“Probably they followed a school of fish in the lagoon, lost their bearings and failed to get back to sea, and they sought to reach the sea by passing directly over the coral reef rather than finding the past. Panicked and stressed, they hit the corals, got exhausted and died, ”he said.
“At the moment, we have no idea of the cause of death. It will take an autopsy with an analysis of the contents of the stomach and an examination of the lungs, to look for traces of hydrocarbons, ”he added.
Greenpeace in a statement called for an “urgent investigation” to establish the facts.
The Mauritian authorities, assisted by foreign experts, are still trying to assess the impact of the MV Wakashio leak. According to their initial findings, there would be no damage to the seabed and coral reefs.
But the stern of the boat, still stranded, continues to threaten the corals. And oil slicks have reached mangroves, threatening to kill plants in the coming months.