Did You Know?
The Yangtze river dolphin is said to be functionally extinct, since there are estimated to be fewer breeding pairs than necessary to maintain a flourishing population.
When it comes to the most intelligent marine mammals, dolphins rule the roost. They won’t score too badly on the ‘adorability quotient’, either. Films and TV series like Flipper and Doplhin Cove have made these stunningly intelligent creatures famous all over the world. Unfortunately, these lovely, curious, and friendly creatures are under a threat of becoming woefully reduced in number, and possibly even extinct.
Endangered Dolphin Species
There are several species of dolphins, and not all of them are endangered or under a threat of getting extinct. It is mainly river dolphins that are under serious threat of extinction. Oceanic dolphin populations are relatively in sound health.
Among river dolphins, the Yangtze river dolphin, also called baiji (Lipotes vexillifer), is virtually extinct, their population in the wild consisting of just a few individuals. Many other species have proved difficult to definitively classify, since they live in habitats that are too difficult to conduct proper research and census in, or their population is scattered across a large area, making it harder to determine the population of the entire species. The Atlantic spotted dolphin (Stenella frontalis) is thought to be an example of the latter; it is found all over the Atlantic Ocean, but is considered endangered or threatened. The tucuxi dolphin (Sotalia fluviatilis), found around the Amazon basin and South America’s Atlantic seaboard, has also proved to be difficult to research, due to its inhospitable habitat. The South Asian river dolphin (Platanista gangetica) and the Irrawaddy dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris), both found in south and southeast Asia, have been declining for a number of years.
Why Are Dolphins Endangered?
Illegal fishing and getting caught as bycatch is a major culprit in the declining number of dolphins. Dolphins, turtles and some small sharks are the most common victims of this practice. Dolphins and shark are smart enough to go after the fish caught in trawler nets. However, many dolphins are killed and injured as the net closes in on them before they have had the chance to escape. According to WWF, more than 300,000 dolphins, whales, and porpoises are killed in this way every year! Some are also severely injured or killed by boat propellers, although adult dolphins are usually smart enough to avoid them.
Water pollution is also causing river dolphins to die out. Toxins in the human waste primarily affect riverine vegetation, and foraging fish. Fish that feed on foraging fish receive a more concentrated dose of the toxins. Since dolphins are apex predators in most of their habitats (i.e., no other fish attacks and kills dolphins), dolphins receive the maximum amount of the poisons.
An often-neglected aspect of human impact on dolphin health is the use of sonar. While useful and virtually irreplaceable as an underwater navigation tool, sonar messes up with the dolphins’ echolocation system. All dolphins use echolocation to a great degree, and sonar sound waves are said to cause potentially fatal injuries to dolphins.
How to Save Dolphins
As we are the ones who have dug a hole for these amicable creatures, it is our duty to help improve their condition. The first step in this direction would be to stop illegal hunting. There are laws preventing dolphin hunting in most countries, but illegal poachers still find ways to evade the enforcers. This is a problem that is also threatening many other marvelous creatures, such as the white rhino and the Bengal tiger, and coordinated global efforts are needed to save not just endangered dolphins, but also other animals staring down the barrel.
Dealing with pollution is a tough ask, and also has to be dealt with at a global level. However, as the saying goes, charity begins at home, and we all can make our own contributions to reducing the effects of pollution.
Eventually, this problem can be improved by education and increase in consciousness about environment and an attitude of concern about other living creatures! If we are not empathetic and concerned about other creatures, then we are inviting doom unto ourselves.