Groups Call for ESA Listing of Critically Endangered Dolphin

AWI joined forces in April with Wild Earth Guardians and the Center for Biological Diversity in filing a petition with the National Marine Fisheries Service to list the Taiwanese humpback dolphin (Sousa chinensis taiwanensis), under the US Endangered Species Act. Fewer than 75 of these dolphins—who are born gray but turn pink or white with age—are thought to remain, all within waters off the densely populated western coast of Taiwan. Like other small populations of dolphins, this one is extremely vulnerable, and faces myriad human-based threats, including pollution, illegal fishing, and boat traffic.

Known locally as “Matsu’s fish,” the Taiwanese humpback dolphin is a biologically and culturally important subspecies of Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin. A previous petition to list this subspecies under the ESA failed because NMFS concluded that it was not genetically distinct from the Chinese white dolphin that swims in deeper waters closer to China’s coastline. New taxonomy studies, however, have concluded that the Taiwanese humpback dolphin is, in fact, a distinct subspecies with unique characteristics—leading to greater optimism that the petition will be granted this time around.

Aside from the awareness that an ESA listing would bring, such a designation would enable the United States to provide resources to Taiwan to mitigate the threats the dolphins face and start a recovery process.