Featured Image Credit: Lindsey Porter
By Alice Morris
Efforts to save the Taiwanese humpback dolphin from extinction are paying off as the National Marine Fisheries Service recently proposed listing the species as endangered.
A previous proposal to list the dolphin under the Endangered Species Act failed back in 2014 after the Agency ruled it was not a distinct population segment of the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin and therefore didn’t warrant protection.
However, new taxonomic evidence presented in 2016 by the Center for Biological Diversity, the WildEarth Guardians, and the Animal Welfare Institute finally distinguished the Taiwanese humpback dolphin as a distinct subspecies of the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin.
Following this discovery, the Society for Marine Mammology revised the dolphin’s taxonomy, which could allow the species to be listed as endangered.
“This proposed rule is a major victory for the Taiwanese white dolphin,” said Dr. Naomi Rose, the Animal Welfare Institute’s marine mammal scientist. “We applaud the U.S. for taking this significant step toward recognizing the plight of this subspecies, which is on the brink of extinction. Even though the subspecies exists solely in Taiwanese waters, this listing will promote stronger protection for the population by Taiwanese authorities, hopefully in cooperation with U.S. input.”
The Taiwanese humpback dolphin, also known as the pink dolphin or Matsu’s fish, is named for its pinkish skin color.
According to the new proposal, the dolphins have a “very restricted range” and data collected between 2007 and 2010 estimates the dolphin’s population to be between 54 and 74.
Cetaceans are particularly difficult to recover because they take years to reach reproductive age and have low reproductive rates. Commercial fishing, pollution, and development along Taiwan’s coast also threaten these dolphins.
Bethany Cotton, the wildlife program director of WildEarth Guardians hopes this new proposal will be a turning point for the Taiwanese humpback dolphin.
“Today’s decision is an important step in preventing the extinction of this critically imperiled dolphin and getting it on the road to recovery,” she said. “We urge the Fisheries Service to quickly finalize these essential protections and work with our Taiwanese allies to address the serious threats to the dolphin’s survival and recovery.”
As much as 99% of species listed under the Endangered Species Act, including foreign species, have survived, an impressive statistic. However, marine species are often overlooked in favor of terrestrial species.
Katherine Brogan, of NOAA’s Public Affairs, says the positive effects of an ESA listing are significant.
“Benefits of ESA protection to foreign species are primarily realized in the form of restrictions on trade and may include prohibitions on certain activities including import, export, take, commercial activity, interstate commerce, and foreign commerce,” she said. “In addition, listing under the ESA can also increase global awareness of the threats faced by the species, which may fuel conservation efforts for the species in its range countries.”
According to biologicaldiversity.org, more than half of marine species are at risk of extinction by 2100 unless serious conservation efforts are put in place.
Comments on the listing proposal are due by Aug. 25. You can view the petition here.