Many of us who are animal lovers were following the story of Nipper, the baby dolphin who washed up on a beach in Uruguay 12 days ago, and died last Sunday despite valiant efforts by a wildlife rescue team to save him.
Now new research suggests that hearing loss may be a contributing factor in Nipper’s stranding, as well as in 1,200 to 1,600 cases of dolphins and whales that wash ashore in the US every year.
The study, published in the science journal PLoS, discovered that many dolphins found washed ashore were deaf.
Hearing impairment hinders the animals ability to use sound to find family and food which can leave them disorientated and weak resulting in them being washed ashore.
The ability to hear sound is crucial to dolphins, deafness or even minimal hearing loss can mean a death sentence for a dolphin in murky ocean waters.
Dolphins use sonar to hunt, locate other dolphins and identify predators. Bottlenose dolphins each have a signature whistle to identify themselves.
Researchers are unsure of what causes the animal's hearing loss, but suggested that birth defects, old age and disease could all be contributing factors. The fact that oceans are now much nosier could also be to blame.
Photo credit: cc:flickr.com/photos/jeffk42