THE SHY DOLPHIN PROJECT
We are working with one of the world's leading marine biologists to help save the Atlantic Humpback Dolphin (Sousa teuszii), one of the most endangered dolphins in the world.
The thing is, no-one has ever heard of the Atlantic Humpback Dolphin. Nobody really knows how many of them there are. No-one knows how long we have before it's too late to save them.
WHAT'S THE PROBLEM?
The Atlantic humpback dolphin is struggling for several reasons.
Firstly, they are very restricted in geographic range – they only occupy very coastal waters that are less than 20m in depth along the west side of Africa from Western Sahara to Angola. This brings them into high levels of contact with humans, so they are impacted by several different threats, including by-catch in artisanal fishing gear, deliberate hunting for meat and coastal development.
This region of Africa is very poor and there is a very high reliance on fish for protein, so the amount of artisanal fishing is very high and most of the villages are using gill-nets. These gill-nets are a big problem for the dolphins because they cannot detect them with their sonar and therefore they become entangled.
Habitat loss/degradation, overfishing, marine pollution, anthropogenic sound and climate change also potentially contribute to the negative impact.
However, part of the issue also lies in their character type.
THE SHYEST DOLPHINS ON THE PLANET?
Marine mammal scientist Dr Caroline Weir explains: “One of the challenges with the Atlantic humpback dolphin is that it is a very quiet, rather timid type of dolphin. This means it doesn’t attract much media attention or receive much interest from the public.
Also, because it inhabits a part of the world that receives little attention from marine biologists, basic essential data on the species are missing. The combination of their reserved nature and the lack of information, means that they simply aren’t on the radar when it comes to public or scientific awareness and conservation funding.
They’re among the most unrecognised yet most vulnerable dolphin species on the planet, which is just heart breaking, especially given the recent extinction of the Chinese river dolphin and the seemingly imminent demise of the
vaquita porpoise, two other similarly obscure and susceptible species.”
HOW BIG IS THE ISSUE?
Populations of Atlantic humpback dolphins were probably never very large to begin with, but there is evidence to suggest they have disappeared from some areas altogether and that the remaining pockets of dolphins are now becoming isolated.
One of the biggest issues in determining the scale of the threats and impacts on the species, is simply the lack of knowledge. It is one of the poorest-studied dolphin species worldwide and information on population sizes and trends are missing from most countries.
However, based on apparently low global population size, continuing declines and increasing threats, the conservation status of Atlantic humpback dolphins is set to be upgraded to ‘Endangered’ in the next review of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (currently listed as ‘Vulnerable’).It has even been recently proposed that the species should be upgraded to 'Critically Endangered'.
WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN
Dr Caroline Weir travelled to Senegal in late 2015 to conduct the first systematic field study of the species in the region to assess dolphin population size and distribution. A resulting scientific paper published the results of this initial survey and indicated that parts of the Saloum Delta may potentially be suitable as a Marine Protected Area (MPA) to protect the species.
Conservation science has reached a point where action depends upon firm scientific data that evidence a decline and pinpoint the cause.
Nothing will happen to protect Atlantic humpback dolphins unless research is undertaken and data are made available.
HOW TO HELP
The Kindly Collective are helping Dr Weir raise £45,000 to undertake major research into the Atlantic Humpback Dolphins. This research will determine distribution and abundance, and ascertain viability for a potential Marine Protection Area (MPA) as well as fund educational work in local villages, to encourage local people to conserve and monitor the species.