Environmentalists seek to save endangered indigenous dolphins

Environmentalists demanded Wednesday that the government take immediate and concrete actions to save a rare species of white dolphin in Taiwan, which was recently classified as "critically endangered" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Although the Sousa chinensis species was accorded the highest level of protection under Taiwan's Wildlife Conservation Act, the government has failed to take the necessary steps to protect the dolphins from extinction, environmentalist said at a workshop.
In response, Lee Tao-sheng, deputy director general of the Forestry Bureau under the Council of Agriculture, promised that representatives of Environmental Protection Administration, the Ministry of the Economic Affairs, the Fisheries Agency and the Water Resources Agency will meet within one month to work out solutions to the problem.
"Some people may doubt whether it is worth the effort to try to protect these dolphins, but when a species becomes extinct, it takes human beings one step further to the end of existence, " warned Tien Chiu-chin, a legislator of the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party, urging the government to attach greater importance to the issue.
Allen Chen, an associate research fellow at the Biodiversity Research Center of Academia Sinica, indicated that the white dolphin issue is often ignored because Taiwan puts more emphasis on studies and research into biodiversity on the east coast.
The Wild at Heart Legal Defence Association noted that the rare dolphin population, currently around 100, is also threatened by industrial development along the coastline, excessive fishing, and pollution of the water.
The noises from construction close by may be fatal to the dolphins as it can damage their sonar systems, the association warned.
Urging the government to take action to protect the rare species, the environmentalists asked that the dolphins' habitat be designated as a restricted area to prevent overfishing.
Some fishing gear, such as trawl nets, destroy the eco system indiscriminately, they said, adding that researchers have found that one-third of the white dolphin population has been injured.
The activists further demanded that major construction plans be suspended until it can be ascertained that the dolphins will not be affected.
Although the white dolphins were classified as an endangered species by the Council of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Administration in early June approved a plan by the Dragon Steel Corp. to expand its operations in an area near the dolphins' habitat, raising doubts among environmentalists of the government's willingness and determination to protect the marine animals.
The Sousa chinensis, also known as the Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphin, is endemic to waters off Taiwan's western coast, between Miaoli County in northern Taiwan and Yunlin County in central Taiwan. The species is isolated from other populations of dolphins along the coast of China, according to the Eastern Taiwan Strait Sousa Technical Advisory Working Group.
The dolphins usually change color, turning from grey to pinkish white, when they reach maturity. They remain in shallow waters within five kilometers from shore and are very sensitive to human activities, the environmentalists said.
The population of the white dolphins was discovered in 2002, though their earliest recorded appearance by fishermen dated back to 40 years ago, the activists said.