Log In

Critically Endangered Dolphins, Whales, and Porpoises

4 Critically Endangered Dolphins, Whales, and Porpoises
Fauzia Tabassum

Fauzia Tabassum

CEO at Enviropreneur

We recently partnered with The Enviropreneur to bring you a fantastic story focusing on the conservation of critically endangered dolphins, whales, porpoises

Introduction

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.

The Baiji

baji dolphin endangered dolphin
Image via Wikimedia

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).

Baiji Characteristics

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

What are the Main Threats to the Baiji?

Three main issues brought Baiji to the brink of extinction: 

Varying water levels shrinking their habitat

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. 

Pollution

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. 

Illegal fishing

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. 

Where to see the Baiji dolphin?

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.

How to help Baiji?

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:

  • Incorporate sustainable living practices in your life to reduce plastic, which generally ends in the rivers and the oceans.
  • Contribute to the organizations working on the protection of dolphins, whales, and porpoises. You can donate to Whale and Dolphin Conservation USA by clicking here.
  • Spread the word!

Vaquita

Vaquita dolphin endangered dolphins swimming in the sea
photo credit: Paul Olsen for NOAA

Vaquita Characteristics

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

What are the main threats to the Vaquita?

Vaquita is the smallest porpoise in the world and the most endangered animal on Earth. Only 10 individuals remain. 

Illegal fishing

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. 

Where to see Vaquita?

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. 

How to help Vaquita?

You can help the Vaquitas by donating to the Porpoise Conservation Society.

North Atlantic Right Whale

critically endangered whales the North Atlantic Right Whale in the ocean
photo credit: NOAA Photo Library

North Atlantic Right Whale Characteristics

Scientific Name: Eubalaena glacialis

Population: 366

Weight: Up to 70 tons

Length: 45 – 55 feet

Lifespan: 67 years

Locations: Along the Atlantic coast of North America

What are the main threats to the North Atlantic Right Whale?

Three main threats are proving to be deadly for the North Atlantic Right Whales:

Bycatch

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. 

Climate Change

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. 

Ocean Noise 

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.

Where to see the North Atlantic Right Whale?

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.

How to help North Atlantic Right Whale?

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.

Atlantic Humpback Dolphin

Atlantic Humpback Dolphin
photo credit: Courthouse News

Atlantic Humpback Dolphin

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

What are the main threats to the Atlantic Humpback Dolphin?

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.

Where to see the Atlantic Humpback Dolphin?

You’ll have to travel to the coastal areas of West Africa to catch a glimpse of the Atlantic Humpback Dolphin.

How to help 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.

Summary

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.

critically endangered dolphins, critically endangered whales and porpoises, dolphins, endangered whales and porpoises, endangered dolphins, endangered marine species, The Enviropreneur, marine wildlife conservation, ocean pollution, fishing activities, endangered marine life, Baiji, Baiji dolphin, What are the main threats to baiji? vaquita porpoise, What are the main threats to the vaquita, where are vaquitas, characteristics of vaquitas, how to help the vaquita, North Atlantic right whale, Characteristics of the North Atlantic right whale, What are the main threats to the North Atlantic right whale, Whaling, Climate change as a threat to the seas, Climate change as a threat to marine species, Climate change as a threat to whales, How to help the North Atlantic right whale, How to help the North Atlantic right whale, What are the main threats to the North Atlantic right whale? World Wildlife Fund (WWF), International Whaling Commission (IWC), Atlantic humpback dolphin, What are the main threats to the Atlantic humpback dolphin, Where to see the Atlantic humpback dolphin?