Sat, Nov 07, 2009 - Page 2 News List

Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin faces extinction

TIME RUNNING OUT With less than 100 of the animals left in Taiwanese waters, researchers are worried about plans to pump wastewater straight into their habitat

By Vincent Y. chao  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin is facing extinction as a result of pollution and over-fishing, researchers said yesterday.

The researchers said that if the government did not take prompt action to protect these coast-­hugging cetaceans, they may well follow in the wake of China’s Baiji dolphins, which were in 2007 confirmed to be extinct.

Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins are listed as “near threatened” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which states that the population has been continuously decreasing.

A distinctive group of these dolphins living in Taiwan’s coastal waters numbers less than 100 and is instead listed by the IUCN as “critically endangered,” just one step above extinction. Researchers want their habitat, which spans between Miaoli and Tainan County, to be designated as a “priority habitat.”

Aided by Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Tien Chiu-chin (田秋堇), the researchers, along with environmental groups, yesterday called on the government to ensure that this dolphin group would not become extinct in Taiwan.

“It’s our shared reliance on coastal waters that makes these dolphins so vulnerable,” said Peter Ross, a research scientist with the Canadian government’s Institute of Ocean Sciences.

Questions were raised over the government’s models, which said that the Taiwanese dolphin group could be sustained by simply keeping 45 to 110 of them alive.

The government should instead aim to dramatically increase those numbers, said Elisabeth Slooten, associate professor of zoology at the University of Otago in New Zealand.

Researchers also expressed concern over the government’s plan to expand a science park in Erlin (二林), Changhua County. The plan calls for discharging the science park’s wastewater 3km from the Changhua coast — directly into the center of what researchers say is the dolphin group’s habitat.

The Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins are especially vulnerable to changes in their environment, researchers said. Their lifespan is between 30 and 40 years and the males and females only reach sexual maturity at 13 and 10 years of age respectively.

In response, officials from the Council of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) promised to prioritize the issue and minimize the impact caused by the Erlin science park.

Yeh Jiunn-horng (葉俊宏), ­director-general of Comprehensive Planning at the EPA, said requirements for Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) of coastal developments that may affect the habitat already include a review of the potential impact on the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins.

Earlier this week, the Executive Yuan’s Task Force for Maritime Affairs, chaired by Vice Premier Eric Chu (朱立倫), also promised to increase funding for the protection of and added research into the dolphins.

However, Ross said that working with a group that unsuccessfully tried to protect the Baiji dolphins showed that speed was of the utmost importance.

He said that if the issue were not dealt with hastily, Taiwan’s dolphins might soon be extinct.

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