We’re pleased to announce the publication of the following two publications in the latest issue of Pacific Conservation Biology (abstracts below).
The data paper is the first peer-reviewed publication on coastal dolphins of north-western Australia, while the Forum Essay discusses the short-comings in the current Environmental Impact Assessment processes in Western Australia. The lack of baseline data on many wildlife populations and the impacts of large-scale coastal development there-on represent conservation issues across Australia and are likely to be relevant in numerous locations globally.
Allen SJ, Cagnazzi DD, Hodgson AJ, Loneragan NR and Bejder L 2012. Tropical inshore dolphins of north-western Australia: Unknown populations in a rapidly changing region. Pacific Conservation Biology 18: 56-63.
ABSTRACT: Australian Snubfin Orcaella heinsohni, Indo-Pacific Humpback Sousa chinensisand Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphins Tursiops aduncus inhabit Australia’s tropical north-western coastline, a region undergoing extensive port development associated with the massive expansion of the oil, gas and mining industries. The current lack of data on dolphin population sizes or trends precludes impact assessments of developments on these protected species. Furthermore, the Western Australian and Commonwealth Government conservation listings of tropical inshore dolphins do not reflect their international listings. From April to July, 2010, we conducted ad hoc boat-based surveys (n=55) of inshore delphinids at seven sites across north-western Australia from Coral Bay in the south (23.1°S: 113.8°E) to Cable Beach in the north (17.9°S: 122.2°E). We documented the locations of these three species from which we obtained photo-identification and biopsy data, as well as reports of Australian Snubfin Dolphin sightings from researchers and community groups. The data from this limited field effort confirm that Indo-Pacific Humpback and Indo-Pacific Bottlenose dolphins occur in the waters adjacent to each north-western Australian urban centre and show that the range of the Australian Snubfin Dolphin extends considerably further south-west than previously reported. Given the scale of coastal developments and the vulnerability of isolated cetacean populations to fragmentation or extirpation, assessments of the viability of dolphin populations are required. Our data suggest that the Australian Snubfin, Indo-Pacific Humpback and Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphins need to be considered as likely to be impacted by coastal developments across north-western Australia.
Bejder L, Hodgson A, Loneragan N and Allen S 2012. Coastal dolphins in north-western Australia: The need for re-evaluation of species listings and short-comings in the Environmental Impact Assessment process. Pacific Conservation Biology 18: 22–25.
ABSTRACT: Little is known about the distribution, abundance and behavioural ecology of dolphins in the tropical north-west of Australia. This region is remote, and until recently, has had a relatively low human population. Two of Australia’s tropical coastal dolphin species, the Australian Snubfin Orcaella heinsohni and Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphins Sousa chinensis (“Snubfin Dolphin” and “Humpback Dolphin”, hereafter) are known to occur in the region. Australia-wide, the only scientific publications on these two species come from a few studies from eastern Queensland, where both species live in “populations” of 50–100 individuals that are genetically isolated from one another; have small home ranges; and are found in near-shore areas, typically within 3-5 km of the coastline. In eastern Australia, both species forage on coastal/estuarine fish and cephalopods, which is further evidence of their reliance on the near-shore environment. According to population sizes in Queensland, and the extent of potentially suitable habitat along the north-west coast, the total numbers in Western Australia are likely to be in the low thousands of individuals (i.e., < 5 000). The combination of these life-history characteristics may render Snubfin and Humpback Dolphins particularly vulnerable to local extinctions due to human activities such as habitat modification and increased shipping and boating activity. In this Essay, we review the current extent of coastal developments in the waters of north-west Australia. Then we discuss the conservation and management implications of this in relation to coastal dolphins, particularly Snubfin and Humpback Dolphins. We also appraise the current, non-targeted methods being used to survey marine mammal populations for environmental impact assessments (EIAs), highlighting their inadequacy for coastal dolphins. Finally, we make recommendations that should improve government decision making processes for the long term.