‘Take only pictures. Leave nothing but footprints,’ has long been an environmental mantra taught at outdoor education programs and seen on signs at popular parks and beaches.

Unfortunately, due to the recent incident where an endangered baby river dolphin died after it was passed around in a frenzy by beach goers wanting to take ‘selfies’, it seems another line or two should be added to that phrase.

‘Take only pictures. Leave only footprints. Let wild animals live,’ or perhaps:  ‘Take only picture. Leave only footprints. Do not disturb nature.’

This incident is tragic for a number of reasons.

First, the excitement and joy people feel when having the privilege of viewing for the first time a wild animal, let alone one that lives in the water, should be something positive. That emotion and connection with nature can move people to protect wildlife. However, in this incident, that emotional excitement took a dark turn when people forget that the dolphin was in fact a wild animal, not a thing or prop for their ‘selfies.’

Second, the dolphin is an incredibly rare species. According to the Washington Post, “La Plata dolphins — also known as Franciscana dolphins — are only found in Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil, and fewer than 30,000 of them remain in the wild,” and these dolphins are the only type of river dolphin whose habitat includes saltwater. 

By Chris_huh (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Chris_huh (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

But these tiny dolphins face threats, less visible than careless beachgoers, such as deadly gillnets. These nets, which Turtle Island Restoration Network is working to outlaw in the state of California and elsewhere (Read our report on deadly California driftnets here), are huge and set out to float and capture whatever wildlife swims into the nets. La Plata dolphins die, drown, and become injured by these nets according to NOAA.

Each of us is responsible for our choices and actions. We can choose to say no to seafood that is caught with deadly gillnets (and in so doing help save wildlife from harm), and we each can take a moment to educate ourselves, our friends, and our family about the proper ways to observe wildlife from a distance without causing harm to them or their habitat.

If you’d like to get involved with our efforts to end driftnets, please join our legal protest this March 13th in Sacramento, CA. Get the details here.