Taiwan, whose fishery is infamous for its indiscriminant use of gillnets, some miles long, on the high seas, wreaking havoc on all species of marine animals, has established a marine wildlife sanctuary off the west coast of the island to protect a dwindling population of Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins.

Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin. (Sousa chinensis)

Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin. (Sousa chinensis)

    Identified as a distinct species only a few years ago, there are estimated to be fewer than 75 dolphins in the population, and more than 30% show signs of having been caught in or injured by fishing gear. Some can be seen swimming with lines still attached to their fins and around their bodies, while others bear deep, lasting scars from previous entanglement.

    Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins are coastal animals, venturing into estuaries and mangroves. Due to their preference for nearshore waters they are especially at risk from human activities.

    The most immediate danger are the thousands of gillnets strung along the west coast of the island which are designed to catch fish by their gills but also kill dolphins and other cetaceans.

    Trawling, another kind of fishing that can cause Sousa bycatch, has been banned in much of the dolphins’ near-shore habitat, but continues illegally, often in plain sight.

    Normal fishing in the area will be unaffected, as the government said a total ban was not feasible as the success of the sanctuary depends on the cooperation of local fishermen, but guidelines have been tightened for operators in the region and there will be tough punishments for illegal fishing of the endangered species. Dredge fishing has also been banned.

    Shout out: Wildlife Extra.