Taiwanese white dolphin in critical danger of extinction: threats to habitat increasing

Marine conservationists sounded a warning that the Taiwanese white dolphin is seriously threatened with extinction during a press conference held by environmental protection groups at the Legislative Yuan following the discovery of a dead dolphin on Taiwan’s west coast last week.

Experts in the field of marine biology pointed out that there were only about 60 individuals left of the only subspecies of dolphin endemic to Taiwan (Sousa chinensis taiwanensis). After being first described in 2002, the Taiwanese white dolphin was added to the IUCN red list as endangered in 2009, and “critically endangered” in 2018.

Scholars speaking at the press conference said that if extinction of the dolphin is to be avoided, only one individual can be lost every seven years. However, nine dead individuals have been found since 2009.

Director of the Whale and Dolphin Center at National Cheng Kung University, Wang Haowen, said that the white dolphin found dead at Anping Port in Tainan City last week was a young male with a length of 237 centimeters and a weight of 152 kilograms. The individual had many scars, both old and new, and a recent cut on the dorsal fin.

Professor at the School of Veterinary Medicine at National Taiwan University, Yang Weicheng, said that many of the scars on the white dolphin were caused by entanglement with such human-discarded objects as fishing net rope. Professor Yang pointed out that this is a common threat faced by the Taiwanese white dolphin, with more than 80% of the dolphins bearing the same kinds of scars and wounds. Around 60% also suffer from skin lesions, trauma, musculoskeletal infections and other long-term effects of entanglement wounds.

Guo Jiawen, a researcher at the Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association said that white dolphins inhabit waters within a depth of 30 meters on the west coast, which highly overlaps with human activities, making white dolphins more vulnerable to human interference. Guo said that it is necessary to put forward specific rehabilitation goals and a schedule.

Chairman of the Taiwan Matsu Fish Conservation Union, Wen Lubin said that the government and experts in the field have identified five major threats to Taiwan’s white dolphins, including water and air pollution, reduction of freshwater in estuaries, noise, habitat destruction, and unfriendly fishing methods. However, there are also other increasing threats, Wen said. These include port expansion, natural gas receiving stations, outlying island industrial areas, coastal waste disposal sites, and large scale development of offshore wind power. The originally difficult living environment of the Taiwanese white dolphin is becoming even more difficult, Wen said.

New Power Party legislator Chen Jiau-hua said that white dolphins can be used as an indicator of environmental pollution in Taiwan. If the white dolphins become extinct, it means that there are many problems along the entire western coast. Chen urged the Ocean Conservation Administration of the Ocean Affairs Council to protect the white dolphin.

Sources: United Daily News, Central News Agency. Picture: Coast Guard Administration. Some names in this article are Hanyu Pinyin transcriptions of Chinese, not official spellings of the name.

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