The Atlantic humpback dolphin is the most endangered of the four species of coastal humpback dolphins, which are all threatened by human activities. The species is found only along the western coast of Africa, ranging through at least 13 countries from Western Sahara south to Angola. Scientists estimate that no more than 3,000 Atlantic humpback dolphins remain in fragmented groups. They are at “an extremely high-risk of extinction in the wild,” according to the IUCN.
“Without protections, Atlantic humpback dolphins could disappear before most people can even hear about them,” Sarah Uhlemann, International Program Director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “The world is facing an unprecedented extinction crisis, and the United States should pitch in to help save these adorable but little-known dolphins.”
By listing the Atlantic humpback dolphin under the Endangered Species Act, the National Marine Fisheries Service would significantly improve the species’ survival prospects by increasing global awareness, generating funds for important science and providing financial, legal, political, and enforcement assistance to local and international conservation efforts.
The major threat to the dolphins is bycatch by local gillnet fisheries that deplete the dolphins’ prey. Other major threats are coastal development and noise from human activity. The market for Atlantic humpback dolphin meat also appears to be growing as part of the African aquatic wild meat trade.
“As with so many small cetaceans throughout the world’s oceans, Atlantic humpback dolphins are in trouble because of human activities in their habitat,” stated Dr. Naomi A. Rose, Marine Mammal Scientist for the Animal Welfare Institute. “Bycatch in coastal fishing gear is their biggest threat, and we hope international cooperation can reduce this pressure.”
Atlantic humpback dolphins live exclusively in relatively shallow waters and are most common in estuarine environments close to shore. They feed on a wide variety of nearshore fish species, favoring mullet.
Atlantic humpbacks are among the least-known species of dolphins or porpoises in the world, and this has hindered implementation of effective conservation measures. Current measures and regulations aimed at protecting this species are woefully inadequate. Although marine protected areas exist in some countries in the dolphins’ range, they have limited effectiveness because few laws or regulations exist specifically to conserve the species.
“The Atlantic humpback dolphin is the species of dolphin or porpoise in the most danger of extinction, after the vaquita in Mexico’s Gulf of California,” noted Dr. Thomas A. Jefferson, Marine Mammal Biologist for VIVA Vaquita. “Extinction of the Atlantic humpback dolphin is clearly preventable, but in order for the species to survive, we need to help its range countries to take strong and decisive measures to provide adequate protection.”
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