Saturday, July 31, 2010

Entangled pink dolphin alive and well

TW-36 photographed in September 2008 with a rope around it: Photo courtesy and copyright of FormosaCetus Research & Conservation Group

In September 2008 we carried a post with photos showing Taiwan pink dolphin TW-36 with a rope, likely the leadline of a gillnet, entangled around it. The dolphin hadn't been seen since and the worst was feared. Recently, researchers from FormosaCetus Research & Conservation Group twice sighted, photographed and positively identified TW-36 off Dacheng at the mouth of the Jhoushui River. Through observation, during which the dolphin made a full body jump, researchers were able to establish that TW-36 is free of the entangling rope.

TW-36 was recently photographed off Dacheng free of the rope that entangled it in 2008: Photo courtesy and copyright of FormosaCetus Research & Conservation Group

Amidst all the doom and gloom that is the reality of Taiwan's west coast this is indeed some heartwarming news. TW-36 escaped a potentially fatal entanglement with what looked to be a rope from fishing gear. We must remember that others are not so lucky. The danger that fishing gear poses to dolphins is very real. TW-03 did not make it. She was found dead on a beach at Sinpu in Miaoli County on 25 September 2009. She appeared to have succumbed to entanglement while she was in a compromised state of health (like a person with the flu getting hit by a car due to a lack of alertness while walking on the streets).

Her name was Mrs. T to the humans that knew her. She was one of the first Taiwan pink dolphins to be catalogued by researchers. She drowned in late September 2009; a victim of entanglement in fishing gear. There are less than 70 of her kind left. [Beached Taiwan Pink Dolphin at Sinpu in Tonghsiao township, Miaoli County, Taiwan 25 September 2009:- Photo Coast Guard Administration]

When the entangled TW-36 was sighted in 2008 there was much concern for its safety. Several options were considered including intervention to capture and free the dolphin of the rope (a risky venture to say the least - any time live captures are done, there is a high chance of injury and death to the animals...and sometimes people). The Eastern Taiwan Strait Sousa Technical Advisory Working Group (ETSSTAWG), an advisory body of local and international experts recommended leaving the dolphin alone and to monitor it if possible; a decision that proved to be correct.

TW-36 was sighted and photographed just north of the Dacheng area close to Formosa Plastics at Mailao. The sighting was on Sunday 25 September just a few hours before the fire at the Formosa Plastics Plant. TW-36 and another animal looked to be doing some feeding in the area during the sighting as well as some socializing with the calf of Super Mom while Super Mom appeared to be feeding. They stayed in the area with minimal overall movement for about an hour before researchers had to return to port. From a photo of TW-36's tail flukes it can be noted that part of the right fluke is missing. Once again, this is probably the result of a run-in with fishing gear. There's no way of knowing if it was in the same entanglement incident where the dolphin got entangled in the rope. Regardless of which incident, it is a clear indication that these critically endangered dolphins need protection if they are to be pulled back from the brink of extinction. If not, they will disappear forever.

TW-36 photographed this month off Dacheng with the Formosa Plastics plant at Mailiao clearly visible in the background: Photo courtesy and copyright of FormosaCetus Research & Conservation Group

This photo of TW-36 shows a large chunk of the right tail fluke missing; a sure indication of the dangers these dolphins face in such busy waters: Photo courtesy and copyright of FormosaCetus Research & Conservation Group

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