Pink Dolphins

Taiwan’s critically endangered pink dolphins

The first scientific study of Taiwan’s pink dolphins (Sousa chinensis), otherwise known as Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins or, locally, as “Matsu’s Fish”, was carried out in 2002. But FormosaCetus Research and Conservation Group have already shown that the population, which is resident in shallow waters along Taiwan’s west coast, is tiny (less than 70), isolated and distinct from other pink dolphin populations in the region – and in serious trouble.

In August 2008, the International Union for Conservation of Nature listed the population as Critically Endangered. In fact, all cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) are protected under Taiwanese law. But legal protection is meaningless without action, and this population will edge closer and closer towards extinction as long as Taiwan’s government allows the degradation of the dolphins habitat to continue.

(Tip: Go to Google Earth and zoom in on Taiwan’s west coast to get an idea of the extent of artificial modification that has already occurred there.)

The main threats to the dolphins are:
1. Loss of habitat (through land reclamation)
2. Water and air pollution (dolphins are air-breathing mammals)
3. Interactions with fishing gear (cetaceans can get entangled in fishing nets and drown or suffer injuries)
4. Underwater noise (dolphins depend on sound for survival)
5. Reduction of freshwater flow into the estuaries within their habitat (freshwater and sediment from rivers help to make estuaries some of the most productive marine ecosystems in the world)

Matsu’s Fish Conservation Union is a coalition of six Taiwanese not-for-profit, non-governmental grassroots organizations established in January 2007 to push for action to protect Taiwans pink dolphins and west coast environment. The member groups are: Taiwan Academy of Ecology; Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association; Taiwan Environmental Protection Union; Changhua Coast Conservation Action; Taiwan Sustainable Union; and Wild Bird Society of Yunlin.

Matsu’s Fish Conservation Union does what it can with very limited resources, in the face of overwhelming government support for even more industrial development and destructive fishing practices within the dolphins’ 200 km-long coastal habitat. So far we have succeeded in pushing the government to hold interagency meetings to address the issue, to consider the dolphins in Environmental Impact Assessments for development projects, and to act with greater caution when planning major industrial expansion within the area. Whenever someone is preparing to make a decision that may impact the population, we’re up in Taipei monitoring proceedings, delivering the latest scientific information and lobbying for real public participation, including participation by the people who will be directly affected by increasing pollution levels along Taiwan’s west coast.

But although the government is now paying attention, if we don’t maintain pressure – international pressure – to reduce human impacts, those projects will still go ahead and the dolphins will continue on their current path towards extinction.

We urgently need donations to support our lobbying, educational and protest activities and the essential long-term dolphin monitoring project that provides information on how the dolphins are doing. We are currently fundraising for the 2010 pink dolphin monitoring project and for 2010 campaign funds. Your donation will be greatly appreciated, wisely spent and will help us protect these beautiful dolphins as well as countless other lives and the integrity of the extensive ecosystem that supports them.

Donations to MFCU can be made via its secretariat, Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association.

For more information, please write to: visit our websites:
MFCU (English):
MFCU (Mandarin):
Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association:

To receive updates and help spread the word, join our Facebook group “Save the Taiwan Humpback Dolphin”.

Hanji Version:…

For the Love of Dolphins

Please enjoy this program, For the Love of Dolphins, featuring Dr. John C. Lilly and Ed Ellsworth. I worked as the research consultant for this project with Patricia Sims, the producer of this show. It originally aired on the Discovery Channel. I took our team to the various researchers and locations included in the program. I was also interviewed regarding my work as a dolphin researcher with Dr. John C. Lilly and the Human/Dolphin Foundation. – Ed Ellsworth

Gray whales on northbound migration

Source: Los Angeles Times

If you missed seeing the gray whales as they swam south to Baja California for the winter, now may be your chance to catch them on their way back north.

Volunteer spotters say the whales’ northbound migration through Southern California is reaching a peak. Clear weather helped them count 50 gray whales cruising north past Point Vicente on Monday, their highest tally since last year’s peak on March 21, when they saw 64.

“There’s a big pulse going through right now,” said Alisa Schulman-Janiger, director and coordinator of the American Cetacean Society/Los Angeles Chapter’s Gray Whale Census and Behavior Project, which logs whale sightings from the Point Vicente Interpretive Center in Rancho Palos Verdes.

More than 20,000 gray whales migrate each year from Arctic waters to the shallow lagoons and bays of Baja California and reverse course each spring, with the bulk cruising back through Southern California by late March.

If past trends hold true, sometime this week should be a good time to head out to look for them, according to those who keep tabs on the migratory giants.

But they warn that seeing a bunch of gray whales today is no guarantee you’ll see them tomorrow.

“A group will come through and then we won’t see any for a while,” Schulman-Janiger said. “Sometimes the pulse is spread out over several weeks or you can have one-third of the migration in one day.

The one thing you can’t do about animal behavior is predict it,” she added.


More Dead Dolphins in the Gulf

More Dead Dolphins in the Gulf Raises Questions

Scientists have found four more dead baby dolphins on Horn Island in the Mississippi Gulf of Mexico and another on Ono Island off Orange Beach, Alabama, adding to the unusually high number of dead dolphins found in the past two months.

Arctic plankton bloom speeds up

Climate researchers have been warning that the Arctic is particularly vulnerable to global warming. The shrinking of Arctic sea ice shows these concerns to be real.

A new report finds that the melting ice has triggered another dramatic effect, one that could disrupt the entire ecosystem of fish, shellfish, birds, and marine mammals that thrive in the cold waters.

Each summer, an explosion of tiny ocean-dwelling plants and algae, called phytoplankton, anchors the Arctic food web. But these vital annual blooms of phytoplankton are now peaking up to 50 days earlier than they did just 14 years ago, satellite data show.

“The ice is retreating earlier in the Arctic, and the phytoplankton blooms are also starting earlier,” said Mati Kahru, an oceanographer at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego.

Drawing on observations from three American and European climate satellites, Kahru and his international team studied worldwide phytoplankton blooms from 1997 through 2009. The satellites can spot the blooms by their color, as billions of the tiny organisms turn huge swaths of the ocean green for a week or two.

The blooms peaked earlier and earlier in 11 percent of the areas where Kahru’s team was able to collect data. Kahru said the impacted zones cover roughly 1 million square kilometers, including portions of the Foxe Basin and the Baffin Sea, which belong to Canada, and the Kara Sea north of Russia.

In the late 1990s, phytoplankton blooms in these areas hit their peak in September, only after a summer’s worth of warmth had melted the edges of the polar ice cap. But by 2009, the peak of the bloom had shifted to early July.

“The trend is obvious and significant, and in my mind there is no doubt it is related to the retreat of the ice,” said Kahru.

Ecologists worry that the early blooms could unravel the region’s ecosystem and “lead to crashes of the food web,” said William Sydeman, who studies ocean ecology as president of the nonprofit Farallon Institute in Petaluma, Calif.

When phytoplankton growth explodes in population during the blooms, tiny animals called zooplankton, which include krill and other small crustaceans, expand in number as they harvest the phytoplankton. Fish, shellfish and whales feed on the zooplankton, seabirds snatch the fish and shellfish, and polar bears and seals subsist on those species.

The timing of this sequential harvest is programmed into the reproductive cycles of many animals, Sydeman said. “It’s all about when food is available.” So the disrupted phytoplankton blooms could “have cascading effects up the food web all the way to marine mammals.”

But a lot about the Arctic food web is not known, so any resulting decline in fish, seabirds and mammals will be difficult to spot. As the Arctic Ocean north becomes less icy, commercial fisherman have begun eyeing these vast, untapped waters as an adjunct to the rich fishing grounds of the subarctic Bering Sea, west of Alaska.

In 2009, the U.S. body overseeing fishing in the region, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, banned commercial fishing in the Arctic Ocean, citing a lack of knowledge about how many fish live there.

“There are no catches authorized because we don’t know enough about the fish populations there to set a quota,” said Julie Speegle, a spokeswoman for the Alaska office of the National Marine Fisheries Service.

NMFS reported results from the first fish survey in 30 years of the Beaufort Sea, an arm of the Arctic Ocean north of Alaska. The survey found sizeable populations of several commercially valuable species, including pollock, Pacific cod, and snow crab. How these populations will respond to the ever-earlier plankton blooms is a big unknown, Sydeman said. But other research has shown that northern Atlantic cod populations crash when plankton blooms in that region shift in time.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center, in Boulder, Colorado, reported that Arctic sea ice covered a smaller area than ever seen in February, tying with February 2005 as the most ice-free February since satellites began tracking Arctic ice in 1979. The annual average Arctic sea ice coverage has decreased about 12 percent since then, a trend that appears to be accelerating, said Walt Meier, a research scientist at the center. Summer ice coverage has declined even more dramatically, he said, with the Arctic losing almost a third of its late-summer ice over the past 30 years.

Japan stops hunting whales

Japan has suspended its hunting of whales and is near to formally pulling out only halfway through the current season in Antartica. The economics of the whaling industry is declining in Japan, with key figures in the Fisheries Agency disgraced for allowing a black market in the meat. The shift has raised hopes that Japan may be moving to end the 23-year-old program, which has ended the lives of around 10,000 Antarctic whales. 

The International Fund for Animal Welfare said government sources in Japan had decided to cut short the season, and the fleet would head back to port.

”Under pressure from all fronts, the Japanese whaling fleet is apparently withdrawing early this season from the internationally recognised sanctuary around Antarctica,” said the fund’s global whales campaign director, Patrick Ramage.

”We hope this is a first sign of Japanese government decision-makers recognising there is no future for whaling in the 21st century and that responsible whale-watching, the only genuinely sustainable use of whales, is now the best way forward for a great nation like Japan.”

An official at the Fisheries Agency of Japan, Tatsuya Nakaoku, said in Tokyo yesterday that, putting safety first, the fleet had halted scientific whaling for now.

When asked if Japan was considering bringing back the fleet earlier than planned, Mr Nakaoku said this remained an option and added that Japan’s whaling plans were not going smoothly.

Greenpeace Japan’s director, Junichi Sato, added: ”When the government says it is ‘considering’ something, they have already decided.”

After being pursued by Sea Shepherd, the whalers have had their kills stopped at a time when finances are tight in Tokyo and international diplomatic pressure is rising. An unconvinced Sea Shepherd leader Paul Watson said he would not relax pressure on the factory ship, Nisshin Maru, which was around 2000 nautical miles from its whaling grounds, and still steaming away.

Nisshin Maru, closely pursued by the Sea Shepherd ship Bob Barker, was at last report running east near the Antarctic Peninsula, and approaching Drake Passage below South America. Captain Watson said he was still concerned Nisshin Maru might try to circumnavigate Antarctica and return to its whaling zone, far south-west of Western Australia. This year, a smaller whaling fleet came under sustained Sea Shepherd pressure, sharply reducing its capacity to catch a quota of up to 935 minke and 50 fin whales.

Meanwhile, the Chilean government said it planned to use naval assets to closely monitor the approaching factory ship. Chile has permanently banned whaling in its waters and forbids the transport of cetacean parts through them, but Nisshin Maru should be able to navigate Drake Passage without entering the Chilean zone.