[MARMAM] New paper on the conservation status of snubfin dolphins in Western Australia

Phil Bouchet pjbouchet at gmail.com
Sun Jan 24 07:45:35 PST 2021

Dear colleagues,


My co-authors and I are pleased to announce that the following paper is now available online:


Bouchet PJ, Thiele D, Marley SA, Waples K, Weisenberger F, Balanggarra Rangers, Bardi Jawi Rangers, Dambimangari Rangers, Nyamba Buru Yawuru Rangers, Nyul Nyul Rangers, Uunguu Rangers and Raudino H (2021) Regional Assessment of the Conservation Status of Snubfin Dolphins (Orcaella heinsohni) in the Kimberley Region, Western Australia. Front. Mar. Sci. 7:614852.

DOI: 10.3389/fmars.2020.614852


This work is the outcome of a long-term collaborative effort involving many dedicated individuals, including staff at the Western Australian Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA) and numerous Traditional Owners / Indigenous Ranger Groups from the remote Kimberley region of Western Australia. Importantly, it is the reflection of the tireless efforts of Dr. Deborah Thiele, who has spent over a decade conducting surveys of snubfin dolphins to gain a better understanding of their ecology, distribution, and conservation needs. 


The paper was published as part of the Frontiers Research Topic entitled “Small Cetacean Conservation: Current Challenges and Opportunities” and can be downloaded freely from:





Implementing conservation measures for data-limited species is a fundamental challenge for wildlife managers and policy-makers, and proves difficult for cryptic marine animals occurring in naturally low numbers across remote seascapes. There is currently scant information on the abundance and habitat preferences of Australian snubfin dolphins (Orcaella heinsohni) throughout much of their geographical range, and especially within the Kimberley region of northern Western Australia. Such knowledge gaps curtail rigorous threat assessments on both local and regional scales. To address this and assist future conservation listings, we built the first comprehensive catalog of snubfin dolphin sightings for the Kimberley. We used these data to estimate the species’ extent of occurrence (EOO) and area of occupancy (AOO) along the region’s 7,000 km coastline, following a simple Bootstrap bivariate kernel approach to combine datasets of varying quality and quantify uncertainty. Our catalog consists of 1,597 visual detections of snubfin dolphins made over a period of 17 years (2004–2020) and collated from multiple sources, including online biodiversity repositories, peer-reviewed scientific articles, citizen science programs, as well as dedicated marine wildlife surveys with local Indigenous communities and Ranger groups. Snubfin dolphins were consistently encountered in shallow waters (<21 m depth) close to (<15 km) freshwater inputs, with high detection rates in known hotspots (e.g., Roebuck Bay, Cygnet Bay) as well as in coastal habitats suspected to be suitable (e.g., Prince Regent River and surrounds, King Sound, Doubtful Bay, Napier Broome Bay and the upper Cambridge Gulf). Bootstrap estimates of EOO and AOO were 38,300 (95% CI: 25,451–42,437) km2 and 700 (656–736) km2 respectively, suggesting that snubfin dolphins in the Kimberley are likely Vulnerable under IUCN criteria B2 at a regional scale, in keeping with their global classification. Our study offers insights into the distribution of a vulnerable coastal cetacean species and demonstrates the value of integrating multiple data sources for informing conservation assessments in the face of uncertainty.


Please do not hesitate to contact me should you have any questions regarding our work.


Best wishes and stay safe,

Phil Bouchet


Postdoctoral Research Fellow

Centre for Research into Ecological & Environmental Modelling (CREEM)

The Observatory, Buchanan Gardens
University of St Andrews, St Andrews Fife
KY16 9LZ, Scotland (UK)


E pjbouchet at gmail.com | pb282 at st-andrews.ac.uk
Twitter @pjbouchet  •  Web pjbouchet.github.io





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