WWF: Dolphins, Porpoises Dying in Gillnets Can Be Saved

GLAND, Switzerland, June 9, 2005 (ENS) - Entanglement in fishing gear is jeopardizing the survival of nine dolphin and porpoise populations around the world, but if action is taken now to modify that gear, chances are good that they can survive. New research published in advance of next week's International Whaling Commission scientific committee meeting finds that conservation efforts made now could make the difference between life and death for these cetaceans.

One of the world's best informed dolphin and porpoise specialists is lead author of the report, "Global Priorities for Reduction of Cetacean Bycatch."

Dr. Randall Reeves, who chairs the IUCN Species Survival Commissionís Cetacean Specialist Group, said his task as author and that of his team was to indicate where conservation resources can be applied most effectively to maximize dolphin and porpoise survival.


Spinner dolphins are vulnerable to entanglement in nets. (Photo courtesy NOAA)
"Rather than simply identifying the species or populations at greatest risk, or the geographical locations where the bycatch problem is most severe, the group of scientists was asked to emphasize where the prospects for successful intervention were especially good," he said.

Reeves and his team identified the nine species and populations that offer the best chance of survival through investment of resources as:

WWF says "urgent action" is needed now because an estimated 300,000 cetaceans are killed in fishing gear each year in the worldís oceans. These air dependent mammals must breathe at the surface, but if they encounter fishing nets when surfacing to breathe, they can become entangled and drown.

ďAlmost 1,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises die every day in nets and fishing gear. Thatís one every two minutes," said Dr. Susan Lieberman, director of WWF's Global Species Programme. "Some species are being pushed to the brink of extinction."

Lieberman says WWF developed this ranking "to help governments and aid agencies know where their money and efforts can really make a difference."


Other species besides those listed in this report die due to entanglement. This Hector's dolphin calf was killed in a gillnet on Banks Peninsula, New Zealand. (Photo by Stephen Dawson courtesy WWF/Canon)
Most of the species on the list are threatened by the widespread use of gillnets. These nets are difficult for dolphins and porpoises to spot visually or detect with their sonar, so they may become tangled in the netting or in the ropes attached to the nets, the WWF report says.

It is possible to reduce entanglement of dolphins and porpoises in fishing nets, and the WWF report points to successful efforts by U.S. fisheries.

"Between 1993 and 2003, fisheries in the United States introduced changes, such as modifications of fishing gear, that reduced cetacean bycatch to one-third of its previous levels," WWF reports.

"But so far, few of these successful measures have been transferred to other countries, and in much of the rest of the world, progress to reduce bycatch has been slow or nonexistent," WWF says.