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Dolphins, Whales and Porpoises: 2002-2010 Conservation - IUCN

Dolphins, Whales and Porpoises: 2002-2010 Conservation - IUCN

monitoring will be

monitoring will be essential for gauging the success of ecosystem/community-based conservation approaches currently being implemented by WWF-Philippines. 4. Evaluate the status and levels of mortality of small and medium-sized cetaceans in Taiwan The Wildlife Conservation Law of Taiwan was amended in August 1990 to prohibit the killing or disturbance of cetaceans and the possession or sale of their body parts (Chou in IWC 1994a, p.110). This legislation, while laudable in theory, has driven exploitative activities underground and hampered research. Although no systematic monitoring has been conducted, direct observations and anecdotal information suggest that cetacean mortality from deliberate exploitation and entanglement in gillnets is high, probably on the order of several thousands of animals per year along the east coast alone (J.Y. Wang, pers. comm.). Although considerable progress has been made toward documenting the occurrence and distribution of cetaceans in the waters of eastern Taiwan (Yang et al. 1999), there is a need for better documentation in other coastal areas. This can be accomplished, in part, by strengthening the existing stranding network and conducting at-sea surveys. Protective legislation in Taiwan should be reviewed and, if necessary, modified to ensure that there are no regulatory impediments to bonafide research. A rigorous monitoring effort is needed to assess the scale of deliberate exploitation of cetaceans and fishery bycatch. One approach might be to conduct frequent but unannounced visits to fish-landing sites and marketing centers. Another component should be the placement of observers on-board fishing vessels, especially gillnetters. Training courses for local scientists to carry out these activities must be an integral component of this project. 5. Investigate and monitor the status of finless porpoises in the Yangtze River As summarized in Chapter 4, survey data and the qualitative observations of Chinese scientists strongly suggest that the finless porpoise population in the Yangtze River has been declining rapidly in recent decades. Nevertheless, data on trends are not definitive. Comparisons between surveys are confounded by uncertainties related to methodological differences or problems in design and analysis. Efforts to conserve Yangtze finless porpoises would benefit from statistically robust estimates of abundance and trends. This project should establish a consistent and affordable survey protocol for use by Chinese researchers, followed by a series of surveys. Surveys need to be consistent not only in their methodology, but also in their coverage and sighting conditions (Smith and Reeves 2000c). Special attention should be paid to trends in porpoise distribution (seasonal and annual) and to habitat features, using quantitative criteria. Acoustic methods might prove useful for supplementing visual search effort and interpreting results (Akamatsu et al. 2001; Goold and Jefferson 2002). Researchers studying finless porpoises in Hong Kong waters have employed an inexpensive, easy-to-use, automatic porpoise detector to help correct for sighting biases (T.A. Jefferson, pers. comm.), and such a device might be adapted for use in surveys of the Yangtze as well. 6. Investigate the feasibility of establishing a natural reserve for finless porpoises in and near Dongting Lake or Poyang Lake, China Yangtze finless porpoises are sympatric with the critically endangered baiji and face similar threats (Reeves et al. 2000a). Although recent studies suggest a dramatic decline in abundance of finless porpoises, densities are said to remain relatively high in the mouths of Poyang and Dongting lakes. The Xin Luo Natural Baiji Reserve is a 135km segment of the Yangtze, centered at Honghu City and stretching upriver to a point about 20km below the mouth of Dongting Lake. Chinese scientists have proposed that the reserve be expanded to include finless porpoises and that its border be extended upstream to encompass the mouth of Dongting Lake. Finless porpoises are also frequently sighted in Poyang Lake around the mouth of the Gan River, near a proposed Siberian crane sanctuary in Wucheng (J. Barzen, pers. comm.) This project should investigate the feasibility of establishing a protected area for finless porpoises in Dongting Lake or Poyang Lake and adjacent waters. It should include surveys to assess porpoise density during different water stages, investigations of porpoise behavior and ecology to ensure that a reserve would contribute to their conservation, and an analysis of the potential for enforcing protective regulations if such a reserve were to be established. If establishing a natural reserve that provides meaningful protection for finless porpoises is found to be feasible, a consultation process will need to be undertaken and a management plan will have to be developed for it. 7. Establish a marine mammal stranding network in China China has an extensive coastline and a range of climatic conditions, from tropical in the Gulf of Tonkin to cool temperate in the Yellow and Bohai seas. Although there has been a great deal of research on populations of dolphins and finless porpoises in the Yangtze River, little work has been conducted on marine cetaceans. Even questions as basic as which species occur along the Chinese coasts and in offshore waters remain largely unaddressed (Zhou et al. 1995). China’s extensive fishing fleets use gear, such as gill and trawl nets, known to kill cetaceans. Preliminary research indicates that the incidental catch of some small cetaceans, especially finless porpoises, is high (Zhou and Wang 1994; Parsons and Wang 1998). However, with the exception of 58

Figure 27. A male finless porpoise that was found stranded at Sai Kung, in the eastern part of Hong Kong, February 2000. There were clear net marks around its flippers, flukes, and elsewhere on the body, indicating that the animal had died from entanglement. This species’ nearshore habitat is rapidly becoming degraded, and incidental capture in fishing gear is a major threat throughout its range in southern and eastern Asia. Photo: Samuel K. Hung. These whales’ breeding and calving habitats need to be identified and protected if they are to have a chance of recovery and long-term survival. The rapid industrial development and massive fishing pressure along the coast of southern China, in combination with the low remaining numbers in the whale population, give a sense of urgency to any protective measures that might be implemented. This project should include a critical evaluation of stranding and sighting reports, interviews with fishermen, and vessel surveys of probable breeding and calving grounds. Satellite tracking would help ascertain the movements of animals as they leave the feeding ground near Sakhalin Island. Once breeding and calving habitats and the migratory routes have been located, it should be possible to evaluate threats and develop appropriate recommendations to government authorities and NGOs in China, Japan, North and South Korea, and possibly Taiwan. 9. Investigate the status of Irrawaddy dolphins in the Mekong River of Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam Hong Kong (Figure 27), no region of China has an active program to study the status of cetacean populations or the impact of fishery bycatch on them. A marine mammal stranding network in China, broadly similar to that in the United States (Wilkinson and Worthy 1999), would contribute significantly to filling these important knowledge gaps. A central office should coordinate activities and ensure the standardization of methods and data and compile information supplied by regional coordinators for national-level analyses. An essential component of the project would be the training of local researchers from various regions in dissection techniques and methods for identifying species from carcasses and skeletal materials. 8. Determine the migration route(s) and breeding ground(s) of western Pacific gray whales as a basis for their protection The strong recovery of the eastern Pacific population of gray whales (Buckland et al. 1993b; Buckland and Breiwick 2002) has diverted attention from the Critically Endangered western Pacific population. A recent review by an international panel of scientists concluded that fewer than 50 mature individuals may remain, and the population was therefore classified by IUCN as Critically Endangered. On their summer feeding grounds in the Sea of Okhotsk, gray whales are subject to disturbance by activities related to the development of offshore oil and gas fields (Weller et al. 2002). Western Pacific gray whales migrate along the coasts of Japan, Korea, and China as they move to and from their breeding and calving grounds, presumably somewhere in southern China (Omura 1988). Anecdotal reports and surveys suggest a dramatic decline in the abundance of Irrawaddy dolphins in the Mekong River (Baird and Mounsouphom 1997; Smith et al. 1997a), and the Mekong population is a high priority for Red List assessment (Figure 28). The situation in Cambodia is particularly worrisome. Several relevant NGO or IGO initiatives are underway or planned, including: (a) a “sustainable development” project in the lower Mekong, sponsored by UNDP, IUCN, and the Mekong River Secretariat, which includes the conservation of freshwater dolphins as one of its priorities (H. Friedrich, IUCN Asia Program, pers. comm.); (b) WWF-International’s Living Waters Campaign, which has designated the Mekong as one of its focal rivers (B. Gujja, WWF-International, pers. comm.); and (c) a project sponsored by the Wildlife Conservation Society to investigate the status of Irrawaddy dolphins in the Mekong of Cambodia. Those efforts should be coordinated to ensure that they result in a comprehensive and credible range-wide assessment of the Mekong River dolphin population. Researchers in the various programs should use consistent methods. The involvement of local scientists and resource managers should be a high priority to ensure that subsequent monitoring is also conducted using consistent methodology. The assessment should include an abundance estimate, a determination of range limits during various water stages, and an evaluation of habitat quality. Based on the results, a conservation and management plan should be developed that emphasizes ecosystem perspectives and local community involvement. 59

Dolphins, Whales and Porpoises: 2002-2010 Conservation - IUCN
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