Indo-pacific humpback dolphins / ©: Guido J. Parra


Coastal dolphins live in some of the most heavily fished, polluted and developed environments in the world. Because of this, they are the most threatened of all our whales, dolphins and porpoises.

Snubfin and Indo–Pacific humpback dolphins

Australian waters are home to at least one and perhaps two unique dolphins.

The Australian snubfin dolphin (Orcaella heinsohni) was only identified as a new species in 2005. Previously these dolphins were thought to be Irrawaddy dolphins, but genetic investigation and a distinctive skull shape proved otherwise.

Recent genetic studies also suggest that Australian populations of Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins (Sousa chinensis) may be another new species found only in Australia.

Knowledge about the biology, ecology, distribution and threats to the snubfin and Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins is scarce. However, science is indicating that the local populations of both species are very small, and possibly number less than 100 individuals. These populations are highly localised, making them very vulnerable to site-specific threats. New information is showing that, for some populations, the loss of just one individual could lead to localised extinctions.

What WWF is doing

WWF-Australia is working with scientists, local communities, Indigenous partners, industry and governments across northern Australia to ensure we learn as much as possible about these vulnerable species and implement workable solutions to protect them. This involves:

• Increasing research and awareness

In 2008, WWF-Australia and ING-DIRECT joined forces to launch the snubfin dolphin project and since then we have been working together to build scientific knowledge and public awareness of Australia’s rare and unique dolphins.
The project supported survey work in Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland to help better understand species, where they live, feed and breed and the threats they face.

• Creating safe havens
We are encouraging the establishment of sanctuaries for snubfin dolphins and Indo-Pacific dolphins as part of a national network of whale and dolphin sanctuaries. This will help to protect them from threats such as encroaching coastal development and fishing activity in their critical habitats.

• Improving water quality

Poor water quality in the Great Barrier Reef can be damaging to the health of dolphins and the ecosystems upon which they depend. We are working to ban key pesticides that pose unacceptable risks to people and wildlife, and collaborating with farmers to implement practices that improve water quality.

• Improving legal protection
The snubfin dolphin is currently listed as “data deficient” on the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act 1999), which means that it is not getting the protection it deserves.

WWF-Australia believes there is a strong case for nominating both the snubfin and Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins for threatened status and is working to ensure this is achieved before it is too late.

What you can do to help

• Be dolphin friendly and dispose of waste thoughtfully so that rubbish and chemicals do not find their way into our oceans

• Prevent boat strike: slow down and keep a constant look out, as you never know when marine wildlife will rise to the surface

• Avoid approaching or harassing dolphins in your boat, as they are very sensitive to disturbance

• Dispose of cat waste responsibly: kitty litter may contain a disease called Toxoplasmosis and dumping it down the drain can make dolphins very ill

• Write a letter to your Federal and State/Territory MP asking for improved legal protection and sanctuaries for the dolphins

Donate to WWF and ensure that these rare dolphins get the protection they deserve.