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Govt risking extinction of indigenous dolphins


New Zealander Pete Bethune, founder of marine activist group Earthrace Conservation, who lost his boat ‘Ady Gil’ in a collision with Japanese whalers in 2010, has sent a strongly worded message to his Prime Minister John Key, asking him to immediately implement increased protection measures for the last remaining Maui’s and Hector’s dolphins, indigenous to the country.

There are only an estimated 50 Maui’s dolphin remaining, and the population of Hector’s dolphins has declined by 75% over the last 40 years.

Despite denials to the contrary by those in the industry, the dolphins’ biggest threat is acknowledged by experts to be fisheries by-catch from the use of commercial and recreational set and gill nets and trawling.

Bethune says he has spoken to commercial fishermen who have admitted to ‘accidentally’ killing multiple Hector’s dolphin through by-catch on numerous occasions but not reporting it in order to avoid fines. Fishing is also allegedly regularly happening under the radar within the current small exclusion zone designed to protect Hector’s and Maui’s.

Other threats include seabed mining, the introduction of tidal energy turbines, disease and recreational pursuits within the boundaries of the dolphins’ habitat.

The Ministry of Primary Industries (which includes fisheries) and the Department of Conservation invited interested parties to submit recommendations and comments to inform a review of the Threat Management Plan for the Maui’s last year. So many animal welfare, environment, marine conservation and other groups and individuals from all over the world responded that it crashed the DOC website.

As yet, nothing more has been heard about the introduction of additional protection measures since the closing date for submissions in November 2012 and Bethune is demanding answers.

In the letter to the Prime Minister, copied to the Ministers for Primary Industries and Conservation, Bethune accuses the Government of stalling tactics, saying, “I have genuine concerns that the New Zealand Government’s real Threat Management Plan is to avoid any confrontation with the fishing industries and continue prevaricating until there are no more Maui’s dolphin remaining, perhaps in the hope that once they’re gone, the world will simply forget about them. I can promise you, we won’t.

A review of the Hector’s component of the TMP is scheduled to be undertaken this year. Bethune hopes that things will progress a great deal more speedily than they have for the Maui’s or as he warns the Prime Minister, ‘you risk global condemnation and irreparable damage to New Zealand’s reputation as a leading proponent for the environment. You will find yourself having to explain why a complete lack of action has resulted in the loss of the last remaining Hector’s dolphin too.’

In addition to those that took part in the submission process including Bethune and others from Earthrace Conservation, many thousands signed petitions like that organised by renowned US surfer, artist and activist, Peggy Oki, who to date has collected 5,341 photographs of people from across the world including Australia, USA, UK, Canada, Germany, France, Indonesia, Afghanistan, and South Africa, all of whom want action for the Maui’s and Hector’s dolphins.

Peggy Oki said, “I sent a follow up to my initial submission to DOC and MPI to the Prime Minister before Christmas, anticipating a possible announcement of the new Threat Management Plan just prior to the holidays, with a link to all the visual petitions we’d collected. It now seems the announcement has been postponed indefinitely.

“The NZ government seem unwilling to take any necessary actions to fully protect and prevent the extinction of the critically endangered Maui’s and Hector’s Dolphins. The dolphins are running out of time but the public can still stand up for them by taking part in Let’s Face it. We need to keep the pressure on Prime Minister John Key.”

Another petition organised by NABU International – Foundation for Nature collected almost 15,000 signatures.

Bethune, who says he was lucky enough to see a small pod of Maui’s whilst on board his vessel, Earthrace in 2006, concludes his letter to John Key by saying, “There has already been one cetacean (Lipotes vexillifer) that has become extinct as a result of human activities. I hold you responsible for ensuring that my country, under your stewardship, avoids the dubious honour of being wholly and directly responsible for the disappearance of the second and third, replacing the Dodo – last seen over 300 years ago – as being synonymous with extinction for generations to come.

“The New Zealand Government must stop prevaricating, grow some balls, stand up to the fishing industries and act now.”



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Feds list rare Hawaii dolphin group as endangered


HONOLULU (AP) — The National Marine Fisheries Service is listing a population of rare dolphins living near Hawaii as endangered.

It’s also issuing new rules for Hawaii’s longline fishermen to prevent them from accidentally hooking the animals.

The agency said Wednesday it’s acting in response to two separate court orders.

The dolphins — which are called false killer whales — have been getting snagged in the longline fishery at high rates.

This is in part because the dolphins like to eat tuna, mahimahi and other fish the fishermen are catching.

The agency is listing false killer whales found in and around the waters of Hawaii’s eight main islands as endangered. There are just 150 of these dolphins remaining.

The agency expects both measures to be published in the Federal Register next week.

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China launches survey of endangered porpoises


WUHAN – Chinese scientists on Sunday launched a survey of endangered finless porpoises in the country’s largest river Yangtze, amid worries that the freshwater mammal might be on the verge of extinction.

Consisting of researchers from the Ministry of Agriculture, the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the survey team set off in Wuhan, a central Chinese city along the Yangtze River.

The 40-day survey is the most comprehensive since 2006, when a survey found the population of finless porpoises down to 1,800 and pronounced the white-flag dolphin, a larger mammal native to the river, close to extinction.

There are probably only 1,000 finless porpoises in the Yangtze and two lakes linked to the waterway after continuous drops in the number, said Wang Ding, researcher from the Institute of Hydrobiology under the CAS.

“Finless porpoises may die out within 10 to 15 years, if strong measures are not taken,” Wang warned.

The survey team will trace the porpoises using sonar system along the middle and lower reaches of the river, collecting data on the species’ population, which will assist in the making of future protection policies.

The initial results of the survey will be published in December.

“As the flagship species in the Yangtze, finless porpoises are the barometer of the river’s ecological conditions,” said Wang Kexiong, deputy commander of the survey team.

“Not optimistic”

Scientists said the survey may not produce optimistic results, as human activities including illegal fishing, sand dredging and pollution have pushed the species to the brink of extinction.

In 2006, a similar survey found no white-flag dolphins along the Yangtze River, suggesting them as being “functionally extinct, ” which means the population is too small for the species’ reproduction.

Both mammals were regarded as the symbol of the river, with groups of them seen swimming around ships, a demonstration of better river ecology back then.

A 2010 WWF report said illegal fishing, inadequate water conservancy facilities and pollution in the Yangtze, China’s busiest waterway, is to blame for the declining number of porpoises.

Since the beginning of the year, more than 20 porpoises have been found dead in the Yangtze River and the lakes of Dongting and Poyang.

Wang Ding said before the ongoing expedition, they have conducted several smaller surveys in the Yangtze River region, which suggested threats facing the porpoises have remained since 2006.

“We’ve just surveyed the section between Yichang and Wuhan, and caught rare sights of porpoises. We are not optimistic about the results of the mainstream survey either,” Wang said.

Lei Gang, director of WWF China’s Freshwater Program, said immediate action is needed if people wish to save the finless propoises from the same ill fate as the white-flag dolphins.

“This means better laws and enforcement — we need to see harmful fishing practices stopped, sand dredging better controlled, and new reserves developed,” Lei said.

Wang expected the survey could help put the porpoises onto China’s top list of wildlife protection, which will bring more government investment to related conservation programs.

“We’ve discussed this for years as it involves complicated procedures, but as far as I know, the change may come soon,” Wang said.

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Sea life facing major shock


Life in the world’s oceans faces far greater change and risk of large-scale extinctions than at any previous time in human history, a team of the world’s leading marine scientists has warned.

The researchers from Australia, the US, Canada, Germany, Panama, Norway and the UK have compared events which drove massive extinctions of sea life in the past with what is observed to be taking place in the seas and oceans globally today.

Three of the five largest extinctions of the past 500 million years were associated with global warming and acidification of the oceans – trends which also apply today, the scientists say in a new article in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution.

Other extinctions were driven by loss of oxygen from seawaters, pollution, habitat loss and pressure from human hunting and fishing – or a combination of these factors.

“Currently, the Earth is again in a period of increased extinctions and extinction risks, this time mainly caused by human factors,” the scientists said.

While the data is harder to collect at sea than on land, the evidence points strongly to similar pressures now being felt by sea life as for land animals and plants.

The researchers conducted an extensive search of the historical and fossil records to establish the main causes of previous marine extinctions – and the risk of their recurring today.

“We wanted to understand what had driven past extinctions of sea life and see how much of those conditions prevailed today,” said co-author Professor John Pandolfi, of the
ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and The University of Queensland.

Professor Pandolfi is an authority on the fate of coral reefs in previous mass extinction events.

“It is very useful to look back in time – because if you forget your history, you’re liable to repeat it,” he said.

Marine extinction events vary greatly.

In the ‘Great Death’ of the Permian 250 million years ago, for example, an estimated 95 per cent of marine species died out due to a combination of warming, acidification, loss of oxygen and habitat.

Scientists have traced the tragedy in the chemistry of ocean sediments laid down at the time, and abrupt loss of many sea animals from the fossil record.

“We are seeing the signature of all those drivers today – plus the added drivers of human overexploitation and pollution from chemicals, plastics and nutrients,” Professor Pandolfi said.

“The fossil record tells us that sea life is very resilient – that it recovers after one of these huge setbacks.

“But also that it can take millions of years to do so.”

The researchers wrote the paper out of their concern that the oceans appear to be on the brink of another major extinction event.

“There may be still time to act,” Professor Pandolfi says.

“If we understand what drives ocean extinction, we can also understand what we need to do to prevent or minimise it.

“We need to understand that the oceans aren’t just a big dumping ground for human waste, contaminants and CO2 – a place we can afford to ignore or overexploit.

“They are closely linked to our own survival, wellbeing and prosperity as well as that of life on Earth in general.

“Even though we cannot easily see what is going on underwater, we need to recognise that the influence of 7 billion humans is now so great it governs the fate of life in the oceans.

“And we need to start taking responsibility for that.”

He said: “The situation is not hopeless.

“In fact we have seen clear evidence both from the past and the present that sea life can bounce back, given a chance to do so.

“For example, in Australia we have clear evidence of that good management of coral reefs can lead to recovery of both corals and fish numbers.

“So, rather, our paper is an appeal to humanity to give the oceans a chance.

“In effect, it says we need to stop releasing the CO2 that drives these massive extinction events, curb the polluted and nutrient-rich runoff from the land that is causing ocean ‘dead zones’ manage our fisheries more sustainably and protect their habitat better.

“All these things are possible, but people need to understand why they are essential.

“That is the first step in taking effective action to prevent extinctions.”

Their paper “Extinctions in ancient and modern seas” by Paul G. Harnik, Heike K. Lotze, Sean C. Anderson, Zoe V. Finkel, Seth Finnegan, David R. Lindberg, Lee Hsiang Liow, Rowan Lockwood, Craig R. McClain, Jenny L. McGuire, Aaron O’Dea, John M. Pandolfi, Carl Simpson and Derek P. Tittensor appears in the online edition of Trends in Ecology and Evolution (TREE).

More information:
Professor John Pandolfi, CoECRS and UQ, +61 7 3365 3050 or (m) +61 400 982 301
Jenny Lappin, CoECRS, +61 417 741 638
Jan King, UQ Communications Manager, +61 (0)7 3365 1120

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Gangetic Dolphins face extinction in Chambal river


Bhopal: The most endangered Gangetic dolphins are sliding towards extinction from Chambal river in Madhya Pradesh in the face of damaging fishing methods and sand mining , reveals the 2012 census report. The count will be zero in next five years if proper steps are not initiated, warn experts.
According to a joint survey carried out by the MP forest officials, their Rajasthan counter part, Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and World Wildlife Federation (WWF) in February, May and June this year, only 58 Dolphins were found in Chambal river this year compared to 65 in the 2011.
Officials figure claims sighting of 175 dolphins in 2006, later it declined to 91 in 2007, 86 in 2008, 84 in 2009 and 69 in 2010.
“It’s alarming. We have submitted our report to the state headquarters with threat analysis and necessary recommendations,” says Dr Rishikesh Sharma, expert on aquatic animal species posted at Morena. He was a key member of the survey team.
The officials had to face inter-state issues while surveying the 435-km stretch of Chambal river passing through MP, Rajasthan and Utter Pradesh (UP).
While forest officials in MP and Rajasthan got along, their UP counterparts expressed lack of concern. The UP rangers cautioned surveyors to stay away entering the area falling under their jurisdiction.
Following which survey of 30-km stretch in UP (Chakan Nagar to PanchNagar) had to be abandoned. Surprisingly, two dolphins were found dead under mysterious circumstances in the same region in UP after the survey was over. A 134-cm long Gangetic dolphin was found dead in a rivulet in Chakan Nagar (Sahson area) close to Chambal River in UP’s Etawah district in August.
Principal Chief Conservator of forest (PCCF) PC Shukla said that he has not come across the latest census report for any comment on the issue. Asked whether any conservation project would be initiated, he said “I don’t think so. We have hundreds of dolphins”. The officer was hardly aware of the actual status of Gangetic Dolphins. “We had been too busy with the tiger issue,” he explained.
The Gangetic dolphins have been declared as the National Aquatic Animal of India in the first meeting of the National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA) chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on October 5, 2009.
It had been included in the Schedule-I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, thereby giving them the highest degree of protection.
A proposal to study of dolphin population dynamics in Chambal and its tributaries, identification and study of their breeding pocket and yearly status review study of resident dolphin population in river Chambal is still under consideration.

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Dolphin debacle


WWF claims that yesterday’s measures, launched by the New Zealand government in a bid to save the remaining 55 Maui’s dolphins from extinction, are destined to fail.

“There are now fewer Maui’s dolphins than kakapo left in the world,” said Rebecca Bird, WWF-New Zealand’s Marine Programme Manager. “And yet this decision means the government is knowingly allowing a method of fishing that kills dolphins to go ahead in their habitat. Instead of seizing the opportunity to give Maui’s the best chance for survival and population recovery, these measures are simply not enough to protect the species from extinction,” she said.

The interim measures will minimally increase protection on the Taranaki coast south from Pariokariwa Point to Hawera, including extending the set net ban out to 2-nautical miles and allowing the use of commercial set nets between 2 to 7 nautical miles when an observer is on board.

However, WWF say that the measures fail to adequately protect dolphins from commercial and recreational gillnet fishing and trawling throughout their entire range. Fishing is the number one threat to their survival. The marine corridor between the South and North Islands also remains largely unprotected, despite this being important habitat for the critically endangered dolphins.

“The newly announced measures are weaker than the government’s own proposed option to best manage the risk to Maui’s dolphins. After months of delay, it is shocking that there are still critical areas of Maui’s habitat where they could drown in gillnets and trawl nets,” said Ms Bird. “The measures also fail to protect the marine corridors that connect Hector’s dolphins from the south with Maui’s, which scientists consider could hold the key to the survival of the species.”

The Minister of Primary Industries announced the measures after public consultations and a lengthy delay, pending a review of the Hectors and Maui’s Dolphin Threat Management Plan later this year.

“This area should have been fully protected back in 2008 when the government introduced new fishing restrictions. Yet it has taken more dead dolphins, an obstructive legal challenge by the fishing industry and further evidence of a serious decline in the population before the government acted. A Maui’s dolphin was reported killed by a commercial fisher off the Taranaki in January, in an area of known dolphin habitat that we have long argued should be off limits to gill nets,” says Ms Bird.

“We need to do everything we can to ensure the decline of these dolphins is reversed. Small steps will not achieve this; we need bold measures and genuine leadership that will ensure a future for these dolphins.”

The official estimate placing the population of Maui’s dolphins at just 55 individuals over the age of one was released by the Department of Conservation in March this year.  It was based on DNA sampling and profiling carried out by a team of scientists at Auckland University.

Government commissioned science indicates that we can only afford to lose one dolphin at the hands of humans every 10 to 23 years without impacting on the population’s ability to recover.

“We hope history will prove this not to be a case of too little, too late,” said Ms Bird. “WWF will continue to speak on behalf of the vast majority of New Zealanders who want strong government action to save this precious species. The global community are also watching. Maui’s are in such a precarious situation we simply cannot afford to lose a single dolphin.”

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White abalone on brink of extinction, study finds


White abalone, the endangered shellfish that once numbered in the millions off the Southern California coast, have declined precipitously over the last decade and are on the brink of extinction, a study has found.

In research published this week, scientists for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported “a dramatic and continued decline” in the population of hard-shelled sea snails, a trend that has only worsened since they were protected from overfishing in the 1990s.

Underwater surveys found a 78 percent drop in the number of white abalone lodged between rocks off the coast of San Diego since 2002, with most of those remaining either so old or isolated from one another they can no longer reproduce. Researchers warned that, without the ability to spawn a new generation, the aging sea creatures, which can live up to 35 years, will not be able to recover on their own.

“At this point, without human intervention, the species could go extinct within our lifetimes,” said co-author Melissa Neuman, white abalone recovery coordinator for NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service.

The report, published in the journal Biological Conservation, urges “immediate, proactive conservation” by breeding white abalone in captivity and releasing them in the wild, saying it may be the only way to save them.

“The study highlights a new sense of urgency about the importance of captive breeding,” said Kevin Stierhoff, lead author of the study and research fisheries biologist at NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, which operates an aquarium facility designed to culture young white abalone to boost wild populations. The University of California, Aquarium of the Pacific and Cabrillo Marine Aquarium are working on similar captive breeding programs, he said.

White abalone were abundant in kelp forests and rocky reefs from Point Conception to Baja California until the 1970s, when they were harvested in large numbers. The fishery was shut down in 1997. White abalone, one of the seven abalone species that live in California waters, was listed as a federally endangered species in 2001.

Only a few thousand are left.

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