Thu, Aug 14, 2008 - Page 2 News List

Groups call for action to save endangered dolphins

By Meggie Lu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Animal rights activists and environmentalists petitioned in front of the Council of Agriculture yesterday, urging it to take concrete action to save the Eastern Taiwan Strait humpback dolphin (Sousa chinensis), an indigenous species of dolphin whose genetic makeup confirms that it is a subpopulation of the Indo-Pacific humpback variety.

The group, including Democratic Progressive Party legislator Tien Chiu-chin (田秋堇) as well as the Wild At Heart Legal Defense Association (WaH), launched the petition in response to a decision made by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) on Tuesday to list the dolphins as “critically endangered” on its 2008 Red List of Threatened Species.

“Critically endangered” is the highest threat level on the list before a species becomes extinct, WaH specialist Chen Huan-yu (陳奐宇) said, adding that a survey last year had shown that fewer than 100 dolphins remained on Taiwan’s side of the strait.

“Although the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins are prevalent in many parts of the Pacific — including China and Hong Kong — the eastern Taiwan Strait variety is a special subgroup that is characterized by bluish gray spots all over the body during adolescent years, which then turn completely white in adulthood,” Chen said.

“The trait is not observed in other Indo-Pacific humpbacks and is a genetic distinction only seen in the Taiwanese variety,” he said.

The animals face an imminent threat of extinction because of water and noise pollution in their habitat, as well human activity, Chen said.

“Because the dolphins live in a 5km stretch of coastline between Miaoli and Chiayi, industrial zones including the Mailiao (麥寮) industrial area, Tongsiao (通宵) and Taichung coal-burning power plants, as well as Changpin Industrial Park have had a serious impact on their environment,” Chen said.

“In addition, fishing in the areas also hurts the animals and many have scratches and cuts from fishing nets or other manmade devices,” Chen said.

“When the dolphins were first discovered in 2002, their population was about 200. Within five years, their population had halved. If no conservation efforts are made, in 10 years there may only be 25 of them left, which would make them functionally extinct,” Chen said.

At a press release issued after the meeting, the council said it was determined to protect the rare animals, promising that an interdisciplinary meeting that would include academics, animal protection groups and governmental representatives, would be held within a month.

“We filed a request with the council more than six months ago. We are happy to see that it is finally making concrete plans to address this problem,” Chen said.

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