There are four (maybe more) separate species of Sousa

By Peter Corkeron (20th April 2014)

Dolphins in the genus Sousa, the humpback dolphins, occur in coastal waters of West Africa, around the Indian Ocean, and in SE Asia and Australia. A recent scientific paper starts to clarify the number of species in the genus. Martin Mendez and Howard Rosenbaum from the Wildlife Conservation Society and American Museum of Natural History pulled together a large team of collaborators from across the taxon’s range. Together, they amassed 235 genetic and 180 morphological samples for new analyses. Previous genetic work, particularly that led by Cèline Frère, suggested that Sousa in Australian waters are distinct from those elsewhere. Earlier morphometric work by Tom Jefferson and Koen Van Waerebeek had not found differences among samples across the Indo-Pacific, suggesting caution when dividing the “Indo-Pacific” clade of Sousa into separate taxa. Mendez and coauthors’ new paper reanalyzed the morphometric data and detected differences, supporting the concept of at least four separate species: S. teuszii in West Africa, S. plumbea in the central and western Indian Ocean, S chinensis in the eastern Indian and western Pacific oceans, and an as yet unnamed Australian species.

A Western Indian Ocean Humpback dolphin (Sousa plumbea) surfaces near Fumba, west Zanzibar, Tanzania. Photo: Gill Braulik

 There’s further evidence suggesting two distinct groups (south-east Africa and the Arabian Peninsula) in the western portions of the range of S. plumbea, and the status of dolphins between south-east Asia and the Indian subcontinent probably won’t be resolved without more sampling. The “Australian” species (which lacks the dorsal “hump” characteristic of S. plumbea and S. teuszii) probably also occurs around the island of New Guinea although establishing the limits of its range will require further sampling in Indonesia, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea. Mendez’s previous work demonstrating links between oceanography and genetic distinctiveness in Sousa suggests ways forward.

 What does this mean for Sousa conservation? S. chinensis, S. plumbea and the Australian species tend to occur in small, relatively isolated populations. Sousa generally tend to live close to shore in areas that are either already heavily affected by human activities or that are becoming more so.  Their restricted coastal distribution, susceptibility to bycatch, and proximity to various human activities make them extremely vulnerable, and all Sousa populations are of conservation concern.

Blue whales protected in the largest Marine Park in continental Chile

By Francisco Viddi and Rodrigo Hucke-Gaete

The Chilean government has recently approved the declaration of the Tic Toc Marine Park, located on Chile’s southern coast, off the Northern Patagonian Fjords.  This marine park, in the waters of Corcovado Gulf, will protect of one of the most pristine marine ecosystems in the southern hemisphere.  With an area of 90,000 ha, Tic-Toc will be the largest marine protected area in continental Chile.

Blue Whale surfacing in the new Tic Toc marine park in Chile. Photo Credit: Rodrigo Huck-Gaete

Research conducted over the last ten years has demonstrated the importance of this area: it hosts one of the largest populations of blue whales in the southern hemisphere, is home to the endemic Chilean dolphin, and is a nesting ground for many bird species including a newly described species of petrel.  Other cetaceans that are fairly common in the area and will also benefit from the additional protection the park provides include humpback, sei, minke and killer whales, Peale´s, dusky and bottlenose dolphins, and Burmeister´s porpoises. Many fish species of commercial importance breed within the park and coldwater corals are present.

Beautiful scenery in the new Tic Toc marine park in Chile. Photo Credit: Rodrigo Huck-Gaete

Announcement of the Creation of the Marine Mammal Protected Area Task Force

by Erich Hoyt and Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara

25 October 2013

The creation of the IUCN Joint SSC/WCPA Marine Mammal Protected Area Task Force (MMPATF) was formally announced on 24 October 2013 by Dan Laffoley, World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA), Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara on behalf of the Species Survival Commission (SSC), and Naomi McIntosh, International Committee on Marine Mammal Protected Areas (ICMMPA). The MMPATF objectives and further activities were described by the Task Force co-chairs, Erich Hoyt and Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara.

Following two global conferences (Hawaii, 2009; and Martinique, 2011) hosted by the ICMMPA, the Task Force was developed through the WCPA, the SSC and the ICMMPA to give a stronger voice to marine mammal needs within IUCN and to serve the larger marine mammal protected area community of practice.

Objectives of the new Task Force include:
a) facilitating mechanisms by which this community of practice can collaborate, share information and experience, access and disseminate knowledge and tools for establishing, monitoring, and managing marine mammal protected areas (MMPA) and promote effective spatial solutions and best practices for marine mammal conservation;
b) bolstering capacity within the MMPA community by exposing it to state-of-the-art tools from the wider MPA and place-based conservation world;
c) enabling the implementation of global MPA targets and agreements; and
d) enhancing opportunities for cooperation, communication, exposure of related products and expertise to a far wider audience.

Task Force products and activities will likely include: publications, guidelines, best-practice guidance (e.g., in the Protected Planet series); consolidation and coordination of the global community of practice; outreach (conference presentations, workshops, website, social networks); application of new technologies (e.g., Google tools); provision of information on activities to WCPA Marine and to SSC, and for protected area news in and outside of IUCN, as appropriate, on a regular basis; supporting pursuance of WCPA, SSC and IUCN goals where appropriate; and supporting relevant resolution drafting and World Park Congress planning and participation.

The Task Force’s first initiative consists in the development of Important Marine Mammal Areas (IMMAs), a working term we have devised to describe discrete portions of habitat, important to marine mammal species, that have the potential to be delineated and managed for conservation. IMMAs can be seen as a potential ‘marine mammal layer’ which represent a pre-selection for consideration by governments, conservation groups, and the general public of areas that deserve consideration for space-based protection. In addition, by linking IMMAs to the larger world of the Convention on Biological Diversity’s Ecologically or Biologically Significant Areas (CBD EBSAs), IUCN Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs), and Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) work, we hope to accelerate the process of habitat protection for marine mammals and the ecosystems that support them. The networking of IMMAs could represent a cost-effective approach to conservation. They can help supply the basis for future MPAs, MPA networks, marine spatial planning and support marine biodiversity conservation in general through marine mammal flagship, umbrella and indicator properties.

In order to identify and propose IMMAs, a set of criteria must be developed that are simple and flexible to allow use in different countries and geographic areas. Criteria must be science-based and applicable to all main marine mammal taxa, and be able to account for the major ecological and biological differences that exist among marine mammals. To achieve this goal, the MMPATF organised on 22 October 2013 in Marseille a workshop dedicated to the selection of IMMA criteria, with the participation of specialists familiar with the main marine mammal taxa, as well as those working in the CBD EBSA and IUCN KBA arenas, and those who have worked on devising the original criteria descriptions for these approaches. This workshopfunded by the Animal Welfare Institute and The Pacific Life Foundation, with the help of The Ocean Foundation and Whale and Dolphin Conservation confirmed the importance of establishing IMMAs specifically and KBAs generally as lists of potential sites for the designation of EBSAs in the marine environment as endorsed by the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity. A working group, set up from this workshop, will now work to finalize the criteria and determine next steps for its testing and implementation.

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