Dolphins reclaim Bosphorus as virus silences Istanbul

Updated April 27, 2020

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STANBUL: Dolphins swim in the Bosphorus where sea traffic has nearly come to a halt after the Turkish government imposed a four-day countrywide curfew.—AFP
STANBUL: Dolphins swim in the Bosphorus where sea traffic has nearly come to a halt after the Turkish government imposed a four-day countrywide curfew.—AFP

ISTANBUL: A lull in boat traffic and a fishing ban in Istanbul forced by the coronavirus pandemic has proved good news for some of the city’s most-loved inhabitants — the dolphins that swim in the fish-rich waters of the Bosphorus Strait between Europe and Asia.

The Turkish city of 16 million has been under lockdown since Thursday as part of government measures to stem the spread of the coronavirus, following two successive weekends where it was also shut down.

The latest confinement period is due to expire on Sunday midnight. The pandemic has claimed more than 2,700 lives in Turkey.

Spotting dolphins in the Bosphorus — a usually very busy narrow waterway connecting the Mediterranean to the Black Sea right through the heart of Istanbul — is often a source of joy for the city’s residents.

But the lockdown has meant fewer ships and more fish in the water, encouraging the mammals to come closer to shore and prompting more frequent sightings.

“A decrease in boat and human traffic across the Bosphorus has a big impact,” said Erol Orkcu, head of the amateur and sports fishing association in Istanbul.

“Terrestrial and aquatic living things can remain free without human beings. That enables dolphins to come closer to the shoreline,” he said.

Before the pandemic, fishing was a daily ritual in Istanbul with hundreds lighting fires or bringing samovars for making tea as they prepared for long angling stints along the shore.

The sight of thousands of amateur fishers on the Galata Bridge and on the banks of the Bosphorus is one of the city’s iconic images. But they are now almost deserted.

Published in Dawn, April 27th, 2020