A new report from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) finds that almost 9 out of 10 toothed whales—including dolphins and porpoises—are threatened by entanglement and subsequent drowning from large-scale fishing operations equipment, such as gillnets, traps, longlines, and trawls. These operations threaten the highest percentage (86 percent) of the world’s toothed whales.
“During the International Year of Biodiversity, the Convention on Migratory Species continues to address major threats such as by-catch, ship strikes, ocean noise impacts and climate change to safeguard these charismatic marine mammals,” said UNEP and the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) Executive Secretary Elizabeth Mrema.
Living throughout the globe in both marine and freshwater habitats, many toothed whales remain mysterious to scientists. The report concludes that 41 of the known 71 toothed whales are so little-known that researchers are not certain if they are threatened of not.
Lack of food and changes in diets due to overfishing by humans currently threatens 13 species, while 14 species are threatened by collisions with ships. The ingestion of plastic and other pollutants have been reported in a total of 48 species (nearly 70 percent).
Currently six species are considered on the edge of extinction. The most threatened is the vaquita with only 100-150 individuals left in the Bay of California. The baiji, once abundant in the Yangtze River, is considered extinct.
(01/03/2010) No one can say with any certainty how many species went extinct from 2000-2009. Because no one knows if the world’s species number 3 million or 30 million, it is impossible to guess how many known species—let alone unknown—may have vanished recently. Species in tropical forests and the world’s oceans are notoriously under-surveyed leaving gaping holes where species can vanish taking all of their secrets—even knowledge of their existence—with them.
(10/22/2009) In December of 2006 it was announced that the Yangtze River dolphin, commonly known as the baiji, had succumbed to extinction. The dolphin had survived on earth for 20 million years, but the species couldn’t survive the combined onslaught of pollution, habitat loss, boat traffic, entanglement in fishing hooks, death from illegal electric fishing, and the construction of several massive dams. Now, another flagship species of the Yangtze River appears to have vanished.
(09/02/2009) Due to the new documentary The Cove, the town of Taiji, Japan is suddenly famous, or perhaps more aptly, infamous. Winner of the documentary award at the Sundance Film Festival, the film uncovers a cove in Taiji where over two thousand dolphins are slaughtered every year due to the billion dollar dolphin entertainment industry. Their dolphin’s meat is then labeled as fish and given to children for school lunches, even though as top level predators the meat is heavily tainted with mercury.