Atlantic humpback dolphins gravely threatened by bycatch in Africa
Washington, DC—Today, the Animal Welfare Institute and other conservation groups petitioned the National Marine Fisheries Service to list the Atlantic humpback dolphin under the US Endangered Species Act (ESA). Atlantic humpback dolphin populations are in serious decline, and the species is already recognized as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.
The Atlantic humpback dolphin (Sousa teuszii) is the most endangered of the four species of coastal humpback dolphins, which are all threatened by human activities. The species is found only along the western African coast, ranging through at least 13 countries from Western Sahara south to Angola. Scientists estimate that no more than 3,000 Atlantic humpback dolphins remain, in fragmented groups of tens to hundreds of animals, and they are at “an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild,” according to the IUCN.
The major threat to the dolphins is bycatch by local gillnet fisheries. Fisheries also deplete the dolphins’ prey. Other major threats are coastal development and noise from human activity. The market for Atlantic humpback dolphin meat is also apparently growing as part of the African aquatic wild meat trade.
“As with so many small cetaceans throughout the world’s oceans, Atlantic humpback dolphins are in trouble because of human activities in their habitat,” said Dr. Naomi A. Rose, marine mammal scientist for the Animal Welfare Institute. “Bycatch in coastal fishing gear is their biggest threat, and we hope international cooperation can reduce this pressure.”
Atlantic humpback dolphins, with distinctive humps on their backs topped by rounded dorsal fins, live exclusively in relatively shallow waters and are most common in estuarine environments close to shore. They feed on a wide variety of nearshore fish species, favoring mullet.
In general, however, Atlantic humpbacks are among the least-known species of dolphins or porpoises in the world, and this has hindered implementation of effective conservation measures; current measures and regulations aimed at protecting this species are woefully inadequate. Although marine protected areas exist in some countries in the dolphins’ range, they have limited effectiveness because few laws or regulations exist specifically to conserve the species.
“The Atlantic humpback dolphin is the species of dolphin or porpoise in the most danger of extinction, after the vaquita of Mexico's Gulf of California,” said Dr. Thomas A. Jefferson, marine mammal biologist for VIVA Vaquita. “Extinction of the Atlantic humpback dolphin is clearly preventable, but in order for the species to survive, we need to help its range countries to take strong and decisive measures to provide adequate protection.”
By listing the Atlantic humpback dolphin under the ESA, the National Marine Fisheries Service would significantly improve the species’ survival prospects, increasing global awareness, generating funds for important science, and providing financial, legal, political, and enforcement assistance to local and international conservation efforts.
“Without protections, Atlantic humpback dolphins could disappear before most people can even hear about them,” said Sarah Uhlemann, international program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The world is facing an unprecedented extinction crisis, and the United States should pitch in to help save these adorable but little-known dolphins, before it’s too late.”
- Marjorie Fishman, Animal Welfare Institute
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- Sarah Uhlemann, Center for Biological Diversity
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- Dr. Thomas A. Jefferson, VIVA Vaquita
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The Animal Welfare Institute (awionline.org) is a nonprofit charitable organization founded in 1951 and dedicated to reducing animal suffering caused by people. AWI engages policymakers, scientists, industry, and the public to achieve better treatment of animals everywhere—in the laboratory, on the farm, in commerce, at home, and in the wild. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for updates and other important animal protection news.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
VIVA Vaquita is a coalition of like-minded scientists, educators, and conservationists, who strive to increase the attention given to the vaquita, the world's most endangered marine mammal species. Our goals and mission are to generate awareness of the vaquita and to promote a healthy Upper Gulf of California ecosystem. We conduct research, public awareness, and education activities to bring this about. Ultimately, we aim to help save the vaquita from extinction, and to do so in a way that also provides long-term benefits to the fisherman and other residents who live around the Gulf of California, Mexico.