(NaturalNews) Overfishing of smaller fish species is leading to widespread famine and even starvation among the ocean's larger predators, according to reports issued by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the ocean conservation group Oceana.
"Scrawny predators -- dolphins, sea bass and even whales -- have turned up on coastlines all over the world," writes Oceana in a recent report, titled "Hungry Oceans: What Happens When the Prey is Gone?"
Not only whale and fish species are affected. Fish-eating birds, as well as other large mammal predators such as seals and sea lions, have also been found "emaciated from lack of food, vulnerable to disease and without enough energy to reproduce," the report says.
According to one study, conducted recently in the Ionian Sea, a full 40 percent of bottlenose dolphins are visibly emaciated.
Oceana and the FAO attribute the starvation problem to human depletion of these predators' food stocks. Over the past several decades, fisheries around the world have collapsed, making it nearly impossible for large fishing operations to catch the large fish -- like salmon, bass, halibut and tuna -- that most consumers prefer to eat. According to the FAO, 80 percent of ocean fish stocks have been depleted, are recovering from depletion, or are either currently being fully or excessively exploited. Seven of the world's 10 largest fisheries have now switched over to catching smaller, "prey" species.
"We have caught most of the big fish and are now going after their food," said Margot Stiles of Oceana.
A full 80 percent of all "prey" fish caught are not eaten by humans, but are rather ground up into fish oil or meal as food for larger species in fish farms. It takes 11 pounds of food for a large fish such as a salmon to put on a single pound of its own.