Oceans are the largest ecosystems in the world. They host 80% of the biodiversity and are responsible for regulating our climate. However, we are losing this wide variety of species, due to the ever-increasing pollution and fishing activities. Some of the most affected ones are whales, porpoises, and dolphins. Every year, over 300,000 of them die a due to accidental entanglement.
Even though there is numerous sea life that is threatened, in this post, we discuss the critically endangered dolphins, whales, and porpoises that are most susceptible to extinction. Let’s dive in.
Baiji is the last member of the mammal family called Lipotidae, which started around 20 million years ago. They don’t share any of their features with the existing whale and dolphin families. Their most unique features are their skeleton and stomach (divided into three compartments).
Scientific Name: Lipotes vexillifer
Population: Less than 10, possibly extinct
Weight: 130 kg – 230 kg (290 lbs – 500 lbs)
Length: 1.7 m – 2.53 m (5.6 ft – 8.2 ft)
Lifespan: 24 years
Locations: Yangtze River of China
Three main issues brought Baiji to the brink of extinction:
The water levels in the Yangtze River, the primary habitat of Baiji, keep varying due to industrial development. As a result, their habitat shrunk and decreased this river dolphin’s food supply. Furthermore, many of them were killed by the invasive activities of construction and by boat propellers.
Similarly, pollution harmed both the Baiji and their prey sources. As a result their numbers dramatically decreased in mere 50 years, even though the Yangtze had been their home for the past 20 million years.
The third and the deadliest reason is illegal fishing through devices called rolling hooks. These are long braided lines with multiple sharp hooks attached to them. Baijis were either caught and killed in them or they got stuck in the net traps.
Even though China has been protecting this species since 1975, with a specialized protection strategy devised in 1986, it hasn’t been successful as they were declared critically endangered in 2006. There was a dedicated 6-week expedition in 2006 to find them, however, it was unsuccessful, so it’s assumed that they have gone extinct. However, since they are shy creatures some of them might still be around.
The Baijis used to be seen in the Yangtze River of China. However, it is believed that they have become extinct so there’s a very slim chance that you’ll be able to see them.
Because of their current status of possible extinction, there aren’t any initiatives to specifically save Baijis. However, you can contribute to saving other marine species to play your part in keeping them alive on the planet. Here’s how you can do it:
Scientific Name: Phocoena sinus
Population: About 10
Weight: Up to 54.4 kgs (120 lbs)
Length: 1.2 m – 1.5 m (3.9 ft – 4.9 ft)
Lifespan: Around 21 years
Locations: Northern Gulf of California
Vaquita is the smallest porpoise in the world and the most endangered animal on Earth. Only 10 individuals remain.
The biggest culprit behind their thinning population is the ever-increasing illegal fishing, which causes them to either get killed or drown due to entanglement in the fishing gear.
The Vaquitas live in the same habitat as the totoaba, an endangered fish species with a very high price on the black market (a single individual goes for a price of around $20,000).
Due to its high demand, the illegal fishing for this species has turned into organized crime, leading to a sharp increase in the catching activities, and hence, the killing of other species found in their habitat.
Even though there have been multiple attempts to protect the Vaquitas, including a coalition between the Mexican government and environmental experts in 2017, all the efforts have been in vain due to illegal gillnet fishing.
You can watch these adorable creatures in the extreme northern part of the Gulf of California in Mexico. However, you have to be very lucky to catch a glimpse as there are only 10 of them left.
You can help the Vaquitas by donating to the Porpoise Conservation Society.
Scientific Name: Eubalaena glacialis
Weight: Up to 70 tons
Length: 45 – 55 feet
Lifespan: 67 years
Locations: Along the Atlantic coast of North America
Three main threats are proving to be deadly for the North Atlantic Right Whales:
We often underestimate the impact of fishing on these large creatures by assuming they won’t be impacted due to their size. However, accidents happen with them all the time, causing them to get entangled in fishnets and other gear, which either seriously injures them or kills them. For instance, sometimes, fishing gear wraps around their mouth, hindering their capability to feed and leading to their death due to starvation.
Another major factor is climate change. As the oceans are warming, whales are losing their prey sources because the small plants and animals on which they feed, either move away or change in abundance due to the constant alteration in seawater temperature, winds, and ocean currents.
Whales communicate through noises, which are hindered by ever-increasing noise pollution through ships and heavy machinery, conducting industrial procedures, such as dredging. This was proven by a study conducted in a critical North Atlantic Right whale area, where a noticeable amount of acoustic smog or chronic noise was observed. In simple terminology, the communication between the whales was higher than usual indicating they weren’t able to hear each other properly. This reduces their ability to feed, protect their young, avoid predators, and find mates.
The Whale Map’s interactive whale sighting map is the best source to figure out where to watch the North Atlantic Right whale at a specific time.
One of the best organisations working for the protection of the North Atlantic Right whale is the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). They are working on improving the shipping lanes. One such effort in Canada’s Bay of Fundy in 2003 led to a reduction of 80% ship strikes to the North Atlantic Right whale.
Furthermore, they collaborate with the International Whaling Commission (IWC) to reduce other threats such as impacts of climate change, bycatch, and noise pollution. You can contribute to WWF for whale conservation through this link.
Scientific Name: Sousa teuszii
Population: Around 1500
Weight: 100 – 150 kg (220.26 – 330.40 lb)
Length: 2.0 – 2.5 m (6.56 – 8.20 ft)
Lifespan: Expected to be around 15 to 20 years
Locations: Coastal areas of West Africa
The main threats to the Atlantic Humpback dolphin are natural predators and human-induced threats
The most serious natural predator threat to the Atlantic Humpback dolphin is Sharks. In Australia alone, it was found that 46% of sampled humpback dolphins had scarring stemming from shark attacks. Other natural predators causing serious damage, specifically to the young, are the great white tiger and the bull sharks.
The Atlantic Humpback dolphins live close to densely populated urban areas throughout Africa, Australia, and Asia. As a result, they are subjected to anthropogenic activities, such as coastal construction and heavy vessel traffic.
Furthermore, many of these populations coincide with fishing areas, leading to them getting killed or injured as by-catch or due to accidents with fishing gear. In some areas of Africa, they are directly hunted.
You’ll have to travel to the coastal areas of West Africa to catch a glimpse of the Atlantic Humpback Dolphin.
You can help in conserving the Atlantic Humpback dolphin by getting involved with Sousa Teuszii. Head over to this link to find out more.
Marine life that is critically engaged poses a serious threat to the overall health of our planet.
As much as 80% of all life on earth is found beneath the ocean’s surface. That means the majority of aquatic sea animals contribute to the above sea systems that help regulate the planet’s atmosphere. Oceans absorb around half the world’s CO2, and ,more than half the oxygen we breathe every day is produced by the ocean. Coastal systems like mangroves, salt marshes and seagrass meadows absorb carbon dioxide up to 50x faster than the same area of tropical rainforest.
It is critical we start protecting the critically endangered dolphins, whales, and porpoises of the ocean. Without them contributing to the growth of coastal systems, we are unable to regulate the atmosphere on land.
Forests are game changers when it comes to tackling climate change. Without
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