Critically Endangered Taiwanese white dolphin: International Collaboration for Recovery Plan

In August of 2019, Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association (Wild at Heart) and Matsu Fish Conservation Union (MCFU), both based in Taiwan, organized and sponsored an international workshop for the purpose of producing a recovery plan to identify actions needed to stop the decline of Taiwanese white dolphins (Sousa chinensis taiwanensis) and promote their recovery. Sixteen experts, including experts in science and conservation policy, along with representatives of Taiwanese NGOs and the Taiwan Ocean Conservation Administration, gathered at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, Canada for a 4-day workshop to produce the plan.   


Participants at the Workshop to Develop a Recovery Plan for the Taiwanese White dolphin

The subspecies was discovered in 2002 and described and classified as a subspecies of the Indo-pacific Humpback dolphin (Sousa chinensis) in 2015.  With no more than 75 individuals existing, the subspecies, has been red-listed since 2008 as Critically Endangered. It was also listed in 2018  as Endangered under the US Endangered Species Act. There is evidence that the numbers have declined to below 65 individuals since the times of those assessments and listings.


The massive development of windfarms along Taiwan’s densely populated west coast represents a recent and growing threat to Taiwanese white dolphins, since it involves a substantial increase in boat traffic and construction noise, as well as functionally reducing the extent of their habitat. The proliferation of windfarms could also result in fishing efforts becoming more concentrated in the dolphins’ nearshore habitat. These negative effects on a critically endangered subspecies could be at least partially offset if the greater and overarching threat of entanglement in fishing nets was eliminated.


Immediate Actions Recommended


A ban on gill and trammel nets is the single most urgently needed action, according to the recovery plan. If effectively enforced, such a ban would go a long way towards halting the dolphins’ decline. The workshop proposed a creative solution: Companies and financial institutions involved in ongoing offshore windfarm development should help finance government programs to eliminate gill and trammel nets from dolphin habitat.

This was seen as a ‘win-win-win’ solution but the windfarm developers, government agencies and fishermen would all have to adopt and implement such a solution immediately. Ideally, the developers would benefit from having their conflicts with the fishing community resolved while at the same time blunting some of the criticism that has been directed their way. The fishing community would benefit by receiving adequate compensation. And most importantly, the Taiwanese white dolphins would no longer die in gill and trammel nets.


The workshop also identified five other actions that may not have such immediate effects, but need to be implemented quickly for sustained dolphin recovery:

  • Locate any new development projects and related impacts away from the dolphins’ habitat;
  • Establish mandatory routes and speed limits for vessels to reduce both noise and the risk of vessel strikes;
  • Reduce air, water, and soil pollution;
  • Increase natural river flows; and
  • Establish regulations to limit human-caused underwater noise levels in dolphin habitat.


The recovery plan is available at here.

Cetaceans at the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) Leaders Meeting in Abu Dhabi

From October 6th to 9th, 2019, the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) in alliance with the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD) held the Fourth SSC Leaders Meeting in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  This meeting has taken place every four years since it was first held in 2008, and provides an opportunity for all of the committees, subcommittees, specialist groups and  Red List Authorities that are part of the SSC to meet, compare notes, become inspired by one another’s work, and discuss ways to strengthen and improve future work.

In a mixture of plenary presentations and smaller parallel breakout sessions, the roughly 300 participants addressed a wide range of issues including:

  • Best practice in Red List assessment;
  • The Assess-Plan-Act cycle, with an emphasis on conservation action;
  • Learning from experience (successes as well as failures);
  • Engagement and input on global policy, such as the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Targets and the Sustainable Development Goals;
  • Conservation successes and innovations in the United Arab Emirates; and
  • Partnerships for conservation, including announcement of a major new partnership between the IUCN SSC and the Indianapolis Zoo (more details here).


Poster giving details of the mission, goals and activities of the Cetacean Specialist Group displayed at the SSC meeting

The Cetacean Specialist Group was represented by Barbara Taylor, the CSG Red List Authority focal point,  Erich Hoyt and Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara, who also represented the Marine Mammal Protected Areas Task Force, and Gianna Minton, who attended in her capacity as a member of the SSC Marine Conservation Committee.  This strong representation allowed the CSG to ensure that cetacean perspectives were represented in the marine-, freshwater-, and mammal-themed break-out groups, and to contribute to discussions on the future of the SSC.


The CSG team were also able to learn from the many other species and conservation experts at the meeting representing taxa ranging from fungi through sharks, large cats and everything in between. It was fascinating to learn more about how other specialist groups tackle the challenges of their Red List assessments (some groups need to assess 10’s of thousands of species!), management of membership, and making the most of the volunteer efforts of members.


The Red List Authority training clarified that listing dates are assigned according to the date of assessment submission and that submission by the deadline does not guarantee that an assessment will be formally published/released with the next set of listings.


The meeting also provided several opportunities for participants to be updated on the work of the Marine Mammal Protected Areas Task Force, and most notably the identification and implementation of Important Marine Mammal Areas (IMMAs). Since the last Leaders Meeting in 2015, more than 130 IMMAs have been identified across the Indian and South Pacific oceans, as well as in the Mediterranean Sea. For more information, read here.


Randall Reeves, chair of the CSG, was unable to attend the meeting but was awarded the prestigious Sir Peter Scott Award for Conservation Merit for his contributions to both the CSG and International Whaling Commission.


Finally, the meeting concluded with the the Abu Dhabi Call for Global Species Conservation Action, a statement issued on behalf of all participants calling for urgent and effective action to address the unprecedented, unsustainable and growing impacts on wild species from human activities.

2 Updated Cetacean Red List Assessments Published in July 2019

Assessments or reassessments of 2 cetacean species, subspecies or populations were published on the IUCN Red List in July 2019. This is in addition to the 5 published in March 2019, 35 published in November 2018, 10 in July 2018, and 19  in November 2017.  A total of 71 cetacean assessments have now been published in the last 2 years.

The updated assessments were of the Rough-toothed Dolphin (Steno bredanensis) and Melon-headed whale (Peponocephala electra) both of which assessed as Least Concern (LC) (see Table 1 for details).  Work on updated and new assessments is continuing and we expect more to be published in December 2019.

Table 1 – Summary of updated assessments and new assessments published in the 2019-2 (July) Red List update. (NT = Near Threatened, DD = Data Deficient, CR = Critically Endangered, EN = Endangered, LC = Least Concern).

# Species/Subspecies Common name Taxonomic level Category Status change
1 Steno bredanensis Rough-toothed Dolphin Species (global) LC  No change
2 Peponocephala electra Melon-headed Whale Species (global) LC No change


The Red List status and documentation for the 89 currently recognised cetacean species as well as 39 subspecies or subpopulations can be found on the IUCN Red List website (  Of the 89 species, 29% are assigned to a threatened category (i.e. CR, EN, VU, NT) and 30% are considered DD although ongoing reassessments of Data Deficient species are likely to result in some of them being reclassified in the near future (see Table 2). It should also be emphasized that there is strong interest in completing additional assessments of subpopulations that are known or thought to be at higher risk than the species as a whole (e.g. Killer Whales, Belugas, Dusky Dolphins).

Table 2. Summary information on Red List status as of November 2018.

Category Species Subspecies/subpopulations Total
Critically Endangered 3 16 19
Endangered 10 11 21
Vulnerable 7 8 15
Near Threatened 6 0 6
Least Concern 36 0 36
Lower Risk/Conservation Dependent* 0 1 1
Data Deficient 27 3 30
Total 89 39 128


*This is no longer a recognized category and this assessment (for the Bowhead Whale, Bering-Chuckchi-Beaufort Seas subpopulation) is out of date.