Australian dolphin could be extinct in three generations

Dolphins are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Image: Shutterstock

There may be only 1000 snubfin dolphins left… and time is running out.

The snubfin dolphin is Australia’s only native dolphin, characterised by its round, blunt head. A report from WWF-Australia has warned that, without legal protection, these dolphins may be extinct in three generations.

One calculation suggests that there may be fewer than 1000 snubfin dolphins alive today and that many of the sub-populations will not be viable in the long term. “Other than in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, there is virtually no protection of snubfin dolphins. Even inside the marine park snubfins are killed by nets and displaced by coastal developments,” Lydia Gibson, WWF’s Tropical Marine Species Manager, said in the press release.

The snubfin dolphins inhabit tidal rivers and mangrove areas across the Top End of Australia and have been spotted as far south as Gladstone. Many of these coastal areas are increasingly subject to development, reducing their habitat as they prefer to live near the shore or in the river mouths.

In 2009 WWF-Australia reported that a pod of 67 snubfin dolphins living off the coast of Townsville was facing the threat of extinction, due to coastal development, increased shipping activity and water pollution.

They are also under threat from boat collisions, shark control measures and in-shore fishing with gill nets and drift nets. Ms Gibson said “Population modelling has shown that in some areas the loss of just one individual per year in addition to the natural mortality rate may be enough to trigger irreversible declines in local populations.”

“Although snubfin dolphins have managed to survive massive environmental changes over the past 20,000 years, they may not last another three generations unless we take the necessary steps to protect them.”

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