Progress on Chinese White Dolphin (CWD) Research and Conservation Initiative

The project previously described (see 29 June 2016 news item) has proceeded as planned over the past half-year. A stakeholder workshop organized by Ocean Park Conservation Foundation Hong Kong (OPCFHK) took place in Hong Kong on 10-13 January 2017. More than 55 participants, including fishermen, government officials, scientists, and NGO representatives from mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and several foreign countries, engaged in discussions aimed at developing a conservation action plan for the humpback dolphins (Sousa chinensis) in the Pearl River Estuary (PRE). This meeting built upon work led by Phil Miller of the Conservation Breeding Specialist Group (CBSG) to produce a Population Viability Analysis. It was organized and chaired by Onnie Byers, Chair of the CBSG.

An adult humpback dolphin surfaces in Hong Kong waters of the Pearl River Estuary. Photo credit: Lindsay Porter

The framework document to be produced from the workshop, which will include a draft action plan, is expected to be available by the end of May 2017 and will be posted on this website. The Airport Authority Hong Kong (AAHK) has been investing in CWD conservation efforts and provided funding for both Miller’s PVA work and the January 2017 workshop. OPCFHK will apply for further funding to support its continuing oversight of implementation of many of the research and conservation actions called for in the action plan. Participation in the workshop by scientists and managers from mainland China was encouraging; their continued engagement will be critical to success.

Action plan implementation is to be guided by the independent Steering Committee consisting of Bob Brownell, Frances Gulland, Phil Hammond (replacing Rohan Currey), Randy Reeves (chair), Wang Ding, and Randy Wells. It should be noted that in addition to the CSG members on the Steering Committee, CSG members Tom Jefferson and Lindsay Porter attended and, very importantly, have been contributing to a collaborative effort led by Wells to combine all available photo-identification material on humpback dolphins in the PRE and make this data set available to all participating CWD researchers, to enable more rigorous population analyses.

 

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Update on the Vaquita

In June 2016, we reported that the survey conducted in September–December 2015 had shown that only about 60 vaquitas were left (as detailed in the CIRVA-7 report). Despite valiant efforts by the Mexican government and NGOs, it clear that illegal gillnet fishing for totoaba, the primary driver for the vaquita’s dramatic recent decline, continues. The acoustic monitoring program in summer 2016 found that the decline rate has accelerated, making extinction imminent. For more information, see the NOAA Fisheries website.

Also, note that a new CIRVA report (CIRVA-8 in late November 2016) and a new abundance estimate will be released in due course and communicated here on the IUCN/SSC CSG news feed.

 

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Proposed Live Captures of Cetaceans, Seals and Penguins in Namibia

In March 2016 a proposal to capture African penguins, marine mammals (cetaceans and pinnipeds) and sharks was submitted to the Namibian Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources (MFMR) by a partnership of two companies: “Welwitschia Aquatic and Wildlife Scientific Research Pty Ltd” and “Beijing Rare Animal Breeding & Promotion Co”. According to an article in the newspaper The Namibian, the proposed captures would include, annually, “…300 to 500 African penguins; five to 15 killer whales; 50 to 100 common bottlenose dolphins; 50 to 100 Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins; 500 to 1 000 Cape fur seals; and various sharks.”

Concern was raised in May 2016 when a Russia-registered ship named the Ryazanovka docked in Lüderitz before moving onto Walvis Bay. The Ryazanovka has been involved in the capture of killer whales in eastern Russia, most recently two killer whales captured in the Magadan region (northern Okhotsk Sea) in 2015. Chinese and Russian parks have been the principal buyers of killer whales captured in the Russian Far East in recent years. According to a recent report by the China Cetacean Alliance, as of October 2015, there were captive cetaceans in at least 36 parks in China, with others under construction. Demand for exotic marine exhibits is clearly high.  The vessel has apparently been sold to local buyers in Namibia (according to the Namibian newspaper Allgemeine Zeitung) and has since been at anchor in Walvis Bay, although a 9 December article suggests the vessel is bunkering and taking on other supplies.

iucn

Namibian conservation groups commented on the proposal soon after it was received. Their concerns included the fact that African penguins are greatly threatened (Endangered on the IUCN Red List) and the scale of the proposed captures would, if successful, deplete, if not eradicate, local populations of bottlenose dolphins and killer whales in a very short period of time.  The most recent abundance estimate of coastal bottlenose dolphins in Namibia is ~100 animals. The proposal attempts to justify the capture of penguins and marine mammals by suggesting this would slow declines in fishery production, an unfounded and widely discredited assumption worldwide. Opposition to the proposal has also been prevalent in the Namibian press, and both national and international NGOs have submitted letters of objection to the MFMR.

The Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission submitted a letter (also saved in the CSG Letters page) to the Permanent Secretary of MFMR on 14 October (copied to the Minister and Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism). The immediate response from the Permanent Secretary was that a decision had not yet been reached and that the application did not guarantee permission. This was further to assurances that a decision would be made in early October. However as of 14 December no official decision had yet been forthcoming.

 

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