Dolphins and whales 'need more protection'

Posted: 6 December 2005

Over 70 per cent of small cetaceans, animals which include dolphins and porpoises are threatened by entanglement in fishing nets a new survey shows.

Among them is Hector's dolphin, the rarest marine dolphin with numbers totalling less than 4,000 that grows up to 1.4 metres in length. It is found in waters in and around New Zealand. Others include the Pygmy Sperm whale found in tropical and temperate waters across the world and Blainville's beaked whale.

The second biggest threat to cetaceans is from catches for food and for crab or shark bait. These include so called killer whales, pilot whales and the narwhal. An estimated 66 per cent of the 71 species surveyed are at risk from such activities.

Meanwhile, just over 56 per cent are threatened by pollution including contamination by heavy metals, pesticides and from ingesting marine litter.

A further 24 per cent are at risk from dam building, siltation, strikes from ferries and other factors linked with habitat degradation.

Almost 15 per cent are threatened by lack of food as a result of over-fishing of the world's ocean and nearly 13 per cent from culling byfishermen who fear they are a threat to fish stocks.

Noise pollution linked with underwater sonar and military manoeuvres are putting at risk over 4 per cent of species.

River dolphin

These are among the findings of a new report produced by the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) and the Regional Seas Programme of the UNs Environment Programme (UNEP).

The report, compiled by Professor Boris Culik of Kiel University, Germany, was launched at this month's latest conference on the conservation of marine species in Nairobi.

It argues that eight small cetacean species including the Ganges river dolphin; the Atlantic spotted dolphin and Northern right whale dolphin,should be given new protection under the CMS agreement,.

Conservation of stocks of seven other species, currently covered under the Convention, should also be extended to other areas the report suggests. These include the white beaked dolphin in Canadian and United States waters and populations of Risso's dolphin waters in waters off several coasts including south east South Africa.

Klaus Toepfer, UNEP's Executive Director, said: "Small cetaceans are amongst the most well loved and charismatic creatures on the planetsometimes linked with heroic tales and legends. Sadly these qualities alone cannot protect them from a wide range of threats. So I fully endorsemeasures to strengthen their conservation through the CMS and other related agreements".

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