This Shy, Playful Dolphin Just Became Endangered

"Gillnets hang like curtains of death across rivers and trap everything that comes into contact with them."

A special kind of dolphin is just one species among thousands now considered endangered because of human impact, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which issued its new listings of endangered and threatened species this month.

Irrawaddy dolphin jumping out of water

Because the shy kind of dolphin lives in rivers and along coastlines in south and southeast Asia, their habitat has become fragmented because of boats and industrial fishing operations.

And one of the main things that's killing them is a fishing tactic that uses gillnets, nets that stretch across the water and entangle fish as well as unintended animals, such as the Irrawaddy dolphin. The finless porpoise, also newly listed as endangered, suffers from run-ins with gillnets as well.

Irrawaddy dolphin swimming

Gillnets hang like curtains of death across rivers and trap everything that comes into contact with them,” Craig Hilton-Taylor, head of the IUCN's red list, said in a press conference on the new listings in Tokyo. 

But the group hopes the new listing will help raise awareness for the species, sparking possible policy changes so that the Irrawaddy can come back from the brink of extinction, mirroring conservation success stories like the one that brought kiwis in New Zealand from endangered to vulnerable. 

Irrawaddy dolphins swimming in a pod

Many people hope that in a few years a similar story can be told about the Irrawaddy dolphin and the many other species threatened by human development and activity — more than ever before are being affected.

Over 14,000 species are now considered endangered or critically endangered.

“It’s all a rather sad picture, but the red list also gives us hope and shows us that conservation can work,” Hilton-Taylor said.

Irrawaddy dolphin
You can help raise awareness for animals in need by making a donation to the IUCN