The Conservation Status of Tropical Inshore Dolphins project will entail the compilation and review of the results of numerous research projects completed under the Whale and Dolphin Protection Plan, as well as monitoring and offset programs associated with port developments. The aim is to provide a synthesis of scientific information to inform assessments of the conservation status of the: Australian snubfin dolphin, Orcaella heinsohni; Australian humpback dolphin, Sousa sahulensis; and Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin, Tursiops aduncus.
In 2013, the (now) Department of Environment and Energy (DoEE) received a nomination to list the Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphin (now known as the Australian Humpback Dolphin) as Vulnerable under the EPBC Act. The nomination was not progressed by the Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC) due to a lack of data. The DoEE then developed the Coordinated National Research Framework to Inform the Conservation and Management of Australia’s Tropical Inshore Dolphins in 2013. This framework was updated in 2015 when funding became available through the Whale and Dolphin Protection Plan (a small funding program that included some $450,000 for dolphin research from 2014/15 to 2016/17).
James Cook University, led by Professor Helene Marsh, coordinated the allocation of funds under the Whale and Dolphin Protection Plan and this resulted in about ten research projects being undertaken across northern Australia. Additionally, other research and monitoring projects targeting inshore dolphins were undertaken as part of offset and post-approval monitoring programs required for projects approved under the EPBC Act. The most significant of these was the INPEX project on Darwin Harbour, that included long-term monitoring in Darwin Harbour and surrounds and one-off surveys across the entire NT coast.
As a result of this recent research and monitoring, there is now markedly more in the way of data and subsequent reporting available to assess the conservation status of the three tropical inshore dolphin species. Our understanding of their conservation status and current threats would benefit from a project to synthesise the outcomes of numerous projects completed since 2013. This would, in particular, be of great use to the TSSC since, in March this year, a second nomination to list the Australian Humpback Dolphin as Vulnerable under the EPBC Act was received. The project team will work closely with research-users to scope the project and shape outputs to meet their needs. Knowledge brokering and communication will be conducted in accordance with the Hub’s Knowledge Brokering and Communication Strategy.