Tue, May 04, 2010 - Page 2 News List

Taiwanese white dolphins face extinction: activists


While an Oscar award-winning documentary has recently put Japan in hot water over its dolphin hunting, Taiwan’s endangered white dolphins are on the verge of extinction because their natural habitat is disappearing as a result of severe environmental degradation, a wildlife conservationist said on Sunday.

Gan Chen-yi (甘宸宜), secretary of the non-profit Matsu’s Fish Conservation Union, said the number of white dolphins, also known as Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins — a species listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as “critically endangered” in 2008 — now stands at only between 60 and 90 off the west coast.

“The Taiwanese white dolphin might become extinct within 10 years if industrial development near the estuary of the Jhuoshuei River (濁水溪) is not halted,” said Gan, who doubles as secretary of the Taiwan Environmental Protection Union.

Gan said there was previously believed to be approximately 200 of the mammals about 3km to 5km off the west coast between Miaoli and Tainan counties between 2004 and 2006.

That number had fallen to no more than 100 by 2007, indicating that various industrial and harbor development projects along the western coastline have seriously polluted the dolphin’s natural habitat, Gan said.

“The issue is becoming even more pressing, as the north side of the Jhuoshuei River estuary between the counties of Changhua and Yunlin has been zoned as a development area for a new naphtha cracking plant,” she said.

She called on the public to purchase public land near the estuary and put that land into trust in an effort to protect the critically endangered species.

Meanwhile, Tung Gene-sheng (董景生), chairman of the Taipei-based Taiwan Environmental Information Center, said his office has invited Oliver Maurice, an official with the International National Trust Organization, to come to Taiwan to help residents buy public land.

Tung said according to the center’s plan, a corridor of 200 hectares of land along the estuary would need to be purchased in the first phase of the project, with each unit of 1m² zoned as one share and selling at a cost of NT$119.

A trust fund would be created through the land sales, Tung said, adding that the drive was expected to take 90 days.

White dolphins have an extremely low birth rate and a life span of 30 to 40 years. It takes 10 to 12 years for them to reach sexual maturity and a female dolphin gives birth only once every three to four years, Tung said.

The humpback dolphins are called “Matsu’s fish” by local fishermen because they are seen most frequently between March and April, when the birthday of Matsu, the Chinese goddess of the sea, is celebrated in Taiwan.

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