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Snubfin dolphins in Fitzroy River at risk
(23 February 2013)

A long term study of an isolated population of Australian snubfin dolphins living in Queensland's Fitzroy River has demonstrated the need for urgent conservation action ahead of potential future port developments in the Port Alma region in central Queensland.

The results of the study published in PLOS ONE show the recent industrial boom along the Australian coastline had increased concerns about the long-term conservation of snubfin dolphins along the Queensland coast. They are subject to a range of threats including poor water quality, habit degradation, coastal development and increased flood frequencies. In the study scientists assessed the conservation status of this small geographically isolated population of snubfin dolphins living in the Fitzroy River region, against the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) criteria for regional populations. The Fitzroy River snubfin dolphin population is composed of less than 100 individuals, with a core habitat area of about 300km2 respectively. It is anticipated that the planned industrial port development, if it were approved to go ahead, could affect up to 25 per cent of the core area for these dolphins. The study also showed that given the small population size, geographic isolation and limited distribution together with the low level of formal protection and future threats, a classification of 'endangered', using the IUCN criteria, was appropriate.

It closely resembles the Irrawaddy dolphin but was not described as a separate species until 2005 and the existence of snubfin dolphins in the waters of northern Australia only become known in 1948, when a skull was found at Melville Bay (Gove Peninsula, Northern Territory). It’s listed on Appendix II of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS). It is listed on Appendix II because it has an unfavourable conservation status or would benefit significantly from international co-operation organised by tailored agreements.

In addition, these dolphins are covered by Memorandum of Understanding for the Conservation of Cetaceans and Their Habitats in the Pacific Islands Region (Pacific Cetaceans MOU).

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Conservation through education - protecting whales, dolphins and the world's oceans for the future generations