The Atlantic humpback dolphin of western Africa is now endangered

Quartz africa
Quartz africa

The list of endangered animals in Africa now has a new addition: the rare Atlantic humpback dolphin.

The declining known populations of the rare dolphins which are named after the characteristic hump just below their dorsal fins has seen its status listed as “critically endangered” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) list of threatened species. The list already includes more known animals such as gorillas and black rhinos. The Atlantic humpback dolphin had been previously designated as “vulnerable.”

The dolphins are usually seen along a 7,000-kilometer range along the coast of Western Sahara to Angola.

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An Atlantic humpback dolphin mother-and-calf pair swim along the African coast (T Collins/WCS)

Even though the dolphins are intentionally hunted for consumption in some cases, the biggest threat to the dolphins is bycatch—the process of being unintentionally entangled in fishing gear. Activities such as port construction also impact the dolphins’ habitat, analysts say. Crucially, as “appropriate management interventions” to deal with threats to the dolphins are “limited or entirely lacking,” analysts expect the dolphin populations to continue to decline.

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A deceased Atlantic humpback dolphin accidentally caught in a net. (T.Collins/WCS)

The most recent assessment of the Atlantic humpback dolphin estimates that there are fewer than 1,500 breeding adults with data suggesting that the dolphins occur in “very low and apparently declining numbers” across the range with most population groups found appearing to be “extremely small” and “isolated.”

There is a silver lining for the rare dolphins though as researchers say marine protected areas such as Gabon’s—a 20,500 mile area which protects 26% of the country’s territorial seas—could serve as a safe haven until conservation efforts are hopefully stepped across the range in response to the more new endangered status of the dolphins.

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