Snubfin dolphin extinction fears prompt call to recognize rare Kimberley species as vulnerable

About 100 snubfin dolphins live in Broome’s Roebuck Bay – Western Australia’s largest known population – but research has shown other groups in Washington state are few in number and in need of better protection.

Amid increased pressures from development, recreation and climate change, calls are being made for the bottlenose dolphin to be officially recognized by state and federal governments as a species vulnerable to extinction.

The rolled-up dolphin, recognizable by its rounded head, was not identified as a new species until 2005 and little is known about its nature and abundance.

However, Holly Raudino, a researcher with the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, studied the rolled-up dolphins and said that although the animals are widely distributed over tens of thousands of square kilometers in the Kimberley, it was concerning that populations appeared small and sporadic.

Researcher Holly Raudino says there is a compelling case for the bottlenose dolphin to be protected as vulnerable under state laws.(

Provided: Holly Raudino

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“All over the Kimberley region they are kind of found in these little metapopulations or pretty fragmented pockets,” she said.

She said some areas, like Price Regent River, had very few dolphins.

“We think there are about 20 who use the area… so it’s a very small population.”

Not yet listed as “threatened” by the state

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has classified the snubfin dolphin as a vulnerable and declining species and estimates that there are less than 10,000 mature animals living in the northern parts of Western Australia, from Queensland, Northern Territory and southern Papua New Guinea.

However, although endemic to Australia, snubfin is not yet recognized locally as a species near extinction due to a lack of data.

A dolphin and a Snubfin calf.
About 100 snubfin dolphins live in Broome’s Roebuck Bay.(

Provided: DBCA / Holly Raudino

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Ms Raudino said there was now a “compelling case” for the species to be listed, which would help protect them.

“If there are any coastal developments, they will in fact be recognized as a species that must be taken into account,” she said.

“Increasing” pressure on bottlenose dolphins

Alexandra D’Cruz, an honors student at Edith Cowan University, also studied the coiled-fin dolphins in the Kimberley, particularly in Roebuck Bay, and agreed that more needs to be done to protect them.

“We found out that the dolphins were hanging out in the deep channel of Broome Harbor,” she said.

Alexandra D'Cruz on a boat smiling for the camera.
Alexandra D’Cruz says threats to snubfin dolphins in the Kimberley include increased recreation and development.(

Provided: Alexandra D’Cruz

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“This is slightly worrying as they are potentially exposed to more threats there – ship strikes and potentially ship noise.

“If there maybe any future construction or development in the port, then we will have to deal with these threats to these dolphins.”

Ms D’Cruz said that with more people visiting the area, it was “urgent” that the species be recognized as endangered “as soon as possible”.

“Broome’s population is growing and that could potentially mean that we have increasing levels of tourism, which could mean there could be more tour operators in the bay,” she said.

“We have to watch them all the time, and I guess put pressure on the government to say ‘We have to protect this species’.”


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