UN Recognizes Dolphin And Whale Culture, Moves To Protect 31 Species

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It took six days of "intense" deliberation in Quito, Ecuador, but the United Nations successfully added 31 animals to its list of migratory endangered species on Sunday. Under an international treaty called the Conservation of Migratory Species, animals like the reef manta, polar bear and great bustard now have improved conservation standings, including bans on take and trade limitations.

Marine animals were big winners at the meeting - not only were 21 species of ray, shark and sawfish added, but the convention highlighted the cultural capabilities of dolphins and whales. Cetacean organization Whale and Dolphin Conservation applauded the move, saying, "In the future, instead of just counting numbers of whales within a certain area, we will need to look more closely at how individuals and groups behave, as that may have an effect on how they respond to threats caused by human activity." Pods of bottlenose dolphins, for example, use sponges to protect their beaks while foraging and pass that knowledge down to calves.

Given that dolphins and the other protected species are migratory, successful conservation will require worldwide cooperation of the 120 party countries (the U.S. and a several dozen other countries are "range states," which are encouraged to adhere to global or local agreements.) "Like never before in the 35-year history of [the treaty], migratory animals have become the global flagships for many of the pressing issues of our time. From plastic pollution in our oceans, to the effects of climate change, to poaching and overexploitation, the threats migratory animals face will eventually affect us all," said Bradnee Chambers, the executive secretary of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, in a statement.

The African lion may have to wait until the next meeting, in the Philippines in 2017, before the U.N. adds the big cat to its list. Lions were the single proposed species that missed out - according to ABC News, a lack of information from the lion's home countries prevented the animal from being added.