Taiwanese Humpback Dolphin Moves Toward Endangered Species Act Protection

Washington, DC—The National Marine Fisheries Service today took a step toward protecting rare Taiwanese humpback dolphins, finding that listing the species under the Endangered Species Act may be warranted. The decision comes in response to a petition from the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and WildEarth Guardians (WEG) seeking federal protections to help prevent the extinction of a population that numbers fewer than 75 dolphins.

“These small dolphins are perilously close to extinction,” said Dr. Naomi Rose, AWI marine mammal scientist. “Once they disappear, they are gone forever. It’s an encouraging sign that the US has so quickly concluded that it could help by extending protections to this population.”

Taiwanese humpback dolphins are threatened by pollution, illegal fishing, boat traffic, and development along Taiwan’s densely populated west coast. The Endangered Species Act could help by providing technical expertise and resources to support Taiwan in conserving the rare dolphin.

“It’s great that these rare dolphins are a step closer to endangered species protection. Small cetaceans around the world are disappearing—baiji in China went extinct, and the vaquita in Mexico and Taiwan’s humpback dolphin are nearing extinction—and we need bold action to save them,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at CBD.

The Taiwanese humpback dolphin, also known in Taiwan as Matsu’s fish, is a biologically and culturally important subspecies of Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin. In 2014 the Service denied a previous petition to protect the Taiwanese humpback dolphin, concluding that the population was not distinct from the Chinese white dolphin, which swims in deeper waters closer to China’s coastline. New taxonomy studies, however, conclude that the Taiwanese humpback dolphin is a distinct subspecies with unique characteristics, whose numbers continue to decline to alarmingly low levels.   

“Even though more than half of marine species may be at risk of extinction by 2100, only about 6 percent of species listed under the ESA are marine,” said Taylor Jones, endangered species advocate at WEG. “This finding moves us toward combating the current extinction crisis by quickly protecting species like the Taiwanese humpback dolphin.”

The Endangered Species Act is an effective safety net for imperiled species: Extinction has been prevented for more than 90 percent of plants and animals under its care. Scientists estimate that 227 species would have gone extinct by 2006 if not for the Act’s protections. Protecting species with global distributions can help focus US resources toward enforcement of international regulations and recovery of the species.

About the Animal Welfare Institute
The Animal Welfare Institute 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.

About the Center for Biological Diversity
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

About WildEarth Guardians
WildEarth Guardians is a nonprofit conservation organization that protects and restores the wildlife, wild places, wild rivers, and health of the American West. The organization is working towards Endangered Species Act protections for diverse marine species through its Wild Oceans campaign.

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