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Are Dolphins Endangered? They Are and the Sad Reasons Matter

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Are dolphins endangered? Read on to learn more.

Are dolphins endangered? Read on to learn more.

Are Dolphins Going Extinct?

Several species and subspecies of dolphin are threatened, and the reasons are all man-made. Many human activities, whether done intentionally or by accident, have adverse environmental impacts and result in the decline of the dolphin population and increase their risk of becoming extinct.

Animals across the world, including dolphins, are facing issues that threaten their existence. In 2006, a freshwater species of dolphin was declared functionally extinct. Its extinction was mainly attributed to the destruction of its habitat.

The last known encounter of these dolphins was in 2002. Although more recent sightings have been reported, none of them were verified.

Why are dolphins endangered? What is causing the steady decline of their population?

Why Are Dolphins Endangered?

Why Are Dolphins Endangered?

What Being Endangered Means - Nine Categories of Conservation Status

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), an international organization that focuses on conservation and sustainability, founded in 1965 the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Also called the IUCN Red List, it’s the most comprehensive record of the conservation status of plants, animals, and fungi. The conservation status indicates whether a species is already extinct or how likely an existing group will go extinct sometime in the near future.

The IUCN Red List classifies species into nine categories based on factors such as population size, rate of population decline or growth, breeding success rates, geographic distribution, known threats, and actions being taken to protect the species.

The nine categories of conservation status are:

  1. Least Concern (LC) - widespread and abundant; lowest risk of becoming endangered
  2. Near Threatened (NT) - most likely to be endangered
  3. Vulnerable (VU) - high risk of becoming endangered
  4. Endangered (EN) - high risk of becoming extinct
  5. Critically Endangered (CR) - very high risk of being extinct
  6. Extinct in the Wild (EW) - surviving individuals are found only in captivity
  7. Extinct (EX) - no known surviving individuals
  8. Data Deficient (DD) - risk of extinction not assessed due to insufficient data
  9. Not Evaluated (NE) - hasn’t been evaluated yet against the criteria

The Endangered Dolphins

In a broader sense, the term "endangered" is used to describe species listed as Vulnerable, Endangered, and Critically Endangered.

There are at least 36 known species of dolphins and a few more different subspecies. According to the IUCN Red List, 5 species and 6 subspecies of dolphins are endangered.

Critically Endangered

NameHabitatInteresting Facts

Baiji / Yangtze river dolphin

Yangtze River, China

* considered extinct after researchers failed to locate a single dolphin

Maui's dolphin

coastal waters of North Island, New Zealand

* one of the two smallest known dolphin species along with Hector's dolphin * one of the rarest type of dolphin with a population of less than a hundred


NameHabitatInteresting Facts

Ganges river dolphin

Ganges and Brahmaputra Rivers of India and Bangladesh

* with current population of less than 2000 * essentially blind

Indus river dolphin

Indus River in Pakistan

* can only detect light intensity and color * often swims on its side

Hector's dolphin

waters of New Zealand

* named after James Hector, the first person to study their species


NameHabitatInteresting Facts

Atlantic humpbacked dolphin

coastal waters along Morocco to Angola

With a hump on where the rounded dorsal fin is



Quite shy; avoids boats and contact with humans

Irrawaddy dolphin

rivers, lakes, coasts, and estuaries in South and Southeast Asia

Reproduces a single offspring every 2 to 3 years



One of the primary causes of death is drowning in fishing nets

La Plata river dolphin or Franciscana

southeastern South America

Has the longest beak in proportion to its body size among cetaceans



The only type of river dolphin that also lives in saltwater estuaries and the ocean

Black Sea bottlenose dolphin

Black Sea

The male usually grows larger than the female unlike other dolphin species



Extremely curious and excited to be in contact with humans

Black Sea common dolphin

Black Sea

Avoids seawaters with low salinity



With distinctive color pattern and color bands on its sides

Eastern spinner dolphin

Eastern Pacific Ocean, coastal waters of Central America and Mexico

Stays in deep water during the day unlike other spinner dolphins



Spins on its axis after leaping high out of water

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Read More From Owlcation

While the number of threatened species seems small, it should be noted that not much is known about one-third of the dolphin species. And it’s not impossible that they could also be endangered. Being classified as either Data Deficient or Not Evaluated means that there’s no urgency to implement actions geared toward their protection and conservation.

In some cases, a species under a less critical status have subspecies or subpopulations that are under more serious threat. One example of this is the Irrawady dolphin. While the species is considered vulnerable, five of its many subpopulations are critically endangered.

Another example is the common bottlenose dolphin. It’s classified under Least Concern, but one of its subspecies is endangered. In addition, two of its subpopulations are categorized as Vulnerable and Critically Endangered.

With the population of dolphins dropping, researchers are trying to figure out their biggest threats.

With the population of dolphins dropping, researchers are trying to figure out their biggest threats.

Why Are Dolphins Endangered?

Dolphins in the wild face natural threats. They serve as prey to a few top predators, essentially orcas and some larger sharks. They also have to compete with these predators for food.

But the biggest threat to dolphins is man. For a couple of centuries, human activities have dramatically altered the environment. Their related impacts have significantly added to the risks that dolphins have to contend with.

Climate Change

The adverse effects of climate change are felt by many marine animals including dolphins. The rising water temperatures affect the ocean currents altering migratory pathways, feeding grounds, and prey distribution. Scientists and conservationists are concerned that dolphins won’t be able to adapt to these conditions fast enough to sustain their populations.

The rising sea levels due to thermal expansion and melting of ice sheets are also detrimental to some dolphins. Those species that live in brackish waters - areas where rivers meet the oceans - are losing their habitat.

Chemical and Debris Pollution

Oil and chemical spills contaminate and destroy the natural habitats of dolphins. Microplastics and other debris, which are known to absorb toxic persistent organic pollutants (POPs), have been found inside the stomach of dead dolphins and other animals.

These pollutants are believed to weaken the dolphins’ immune system. They also result in an increase of infant mortality rates. Moreover, the effects of contamination on them are compounded as they eat other contaminated marine animals.

Sea Traffic and Noise Pollution

Dolphins rely heavily on their sense of hearing. In murky or dark waters, they use echolocation to protect themselves from predators, navigate, locate their prey, and hunt.

Sounds coming from shipping, seismic testing, and offshore drilling for oil and gas exploration, military activities, and ocean research contributes to noise pollution that affects dolphins. They can cause confusion or actual impairment of the dolphins’ hearing. It’s believed to be the main cause of mass stranding of dolphins, which can possibly lead to their death.


Dolphin hunts are commonly practiced in Japan and the Faroe Islands, but they’re also done in countries throughout Central and South America, South Pacific, and West Africa. Most of them harvest dolphins for food despite the fact that their meat contains toxic levels of substances such as mercury. Others, mainly fishermen, believe that dolphins destroy their fishing nets or compete with them.

Modern Fishing

Modern techniques employed by large commercial fishing vessels are a lot more efficient than those used a century ago. As a consequence, the number of traditional dolphin prey has been significantly reduced.

Dolphins are also vulnerable to entanglement in commercial and discarded fishing gears. Dolphins can’t breathe underwater. Thus, getting entangled leads to drowning and death.

Tuna fishing is often associated with large numbers of dolphin deaths. Yellowfin tuna are commonly caught through indiscriminate capture. Because several species of dolphin swim with schools of yellowfin tuna, massive numbers get caught along with tuna, and they are eventually exterminated.

Habitat Loss

River dolphins are most susceptible to habitat loss. Living in highly populated regions, their existence is constantly threatened by humans, either on purpose or by accident. In addition, the construction of dams and other waterfront development drastically alters and destroys their habitat.


Dolphins are captured for research and entertainment purposes. With tourist attractions offering the chance to interact and swim with dolphins becoming more popular, more have been brought to captivity.

Conservationists claim that the removal of dolphins from their natural habitat and transportation lead to more deaths. Even if they survived the process, they are exposed to several diseases in captivity tanks.

What can we do to help the dolphins?

What can we do to help the dolphins?

What You Can Do

Humans are the main reason why the number of dolphin species is continuously decreasing. Although conservation requires an immense global effort, you can choose to not add to the problem and become part of the solution by doing these things:

  • Become more responsible and actively recycle for less waste
  • Do not support tourist attractions that offer irresponsible animal interactions
  • Lower your carbon emissions to reduce global warming by opting for environmentally-friendly vehicles
  • Participate in government and private conservation efforts
  • Encourage your family, friends, and other people to do the same

Raise awareness and let other people know about endangered dolphins by sharing this article on Facebook, Reddit, Pinterest, or Twitter.


  • Why Are Dolphins Endangered? By Whale Facts - Retrieved on May 5, 2019
  • IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria, By iucnredlist - Retrieved on May 5, 2019
  • Dolphin Threats, By seethewild - Retrieved on May 5, 2019


Joe mamma on February 06, 2020:


joe on December 11, 2019:

what are you doing to save the dolphins?

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