Tropical inshore dolphins of north-western Australia: unknown populations in a rapidly changing region
Allen, SJ, Cagnazzi, DDB, Hodgson, AJ, Loneragan, NR & Bejder, L 2012, 'Tropical inshore dolphins of north-western Australia: unknown populations in a rapidly changing region', Pacific Conservation Biology, Vol. 18, no.1, pp. 56-63.
Australian Snubfin Orcaella heinsohni, Indo-Pacific Humpback Sousa chinensis and Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphins Tursiops aduncus inhabit Australia’s tropical north-western coastline, a region undergoing extensive port development associated with the massive expansion of the oil, gas and mining industries. The current lack of data on dolphin population sizes or trends precludes impact assessments of developments on these protected species. Furthermore, the Western Australian and Commonwealth Government conservation listings of tropical inshore dolphins do not reflect their international listings. From April to July, 2010, we conducted ad hoc boat-based surveys (n=55) of inshore delphinids at seven sites across north-western Australia from Coral Bay in the south (23.1°S: 113.8°E) to Cable Beach in the north (17.9°S: 122.2°E). We documented the locations of these three species from which we obtained photoidentification and biopsy data, as well as reports of Australian Snubfin Dolphin sightings from researchers and community groups. The data from this limited field effort confirm that Indo-Pacific Humpback and Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphins occur in the waters adjacent to each north-western Australian urban centre and show that the range of the Australian Snubfin Dolphin extends considerably further south-west than previously reported. Given the scale of coastal developments and the vulnerability of isolated cetacean populations to fragmentation or extirpation, assessments of the viability of dolphin populations are required. Our data suggest that the Australian Snubfin, Indo-Pacific Humpback and Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphins need to be considered as likely to be impacted by coastal developments across north-western Australia.