Snubfin dolphins and whales need better safe havens off Western Australia

Snubfin dolphin. Image: Christy Harrington

Dolphins and whales need safe havens, extensions of current sanctuaries, off the coast of Western Australia, says IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare).

The animal welfare group released its a report into whether protected areas are working for whales and dolphins.

The report coincides with a review of marine protected areas underway by the Federal Government, which is open for submissions until March 31.

IFAW says the marine reserves review must not be used to remove any sanctuary areas.

“This would be deeply damaging to whale and dolphin conservation and would undermine the Government’s pledge to protect these animals through its Whale and Dolphin Action Plan,” says Sharon Livermore, IFAW’s Marine Campaigner.

The Kimberley Commonwealth marine reserve and the Western Australian Camden Sound marine park protect a small population of snubfin dolphins and the largest population of humpback whales in the Southern Hemisphere while calving and nursing.

The snubfin is found only in Australia’s tropical north and probably in the southern areas of the island of New Guinea and was only recognised as a separate species in 2005. Before that everyone thought it was a type of river dolphin found in south-east Asia.

Important protection has also been provided for blue and sperm whales off Perth and Albany.

However, Livermore says one of the species most in need of protection, Australia’s native snubfin dolphin, remains mostly unprotected by marine reserves.

She says the WA Government’s proposed Roebuck Bay marine park should be used to introduce sanctuary protection for Australia’s largest snubfin dolphin population.

“Off the south coast, endangered southern right whales are seriously in need of protection in state waters,”she says.

“Each year, these majestic animals migrate to important bays, such as Doubtful Island Bay and Israelite Bay, seeking sanctuary to give birth and nurse their young. These coastal waters are currently completely unprotected by any kind of marine reserve.”

“Whales are confined to the areas of the ocean they depend on biologically, so we need to allow for safe havens to give them a chance to rest, feed and breed undisturbed.”

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