Roebuck Bay a haven for snubfin dolphins: WWF

A NEW report by Murdoch University has re-enforced Roebuck Bay’s national importance as a haven for Australia’s unique snubfin dolphins.

Murdoch University’s Cetacean Research Unit (MUCRU) provided the findings to WWF-Australia this week. It covers the latest field work to estimate the population size of these poorly-understood animals in the waters adjacent to the Kimberley town of Broome.

Assisted by Yawuru traditional owners, the research team used photo-identification techniques to identify and count individual dolphins based on unique marks on their dorsal fins.

MUCRU PhD candidate Alex Brown, who led the study, said: “In October 2013 we surveyed the northern third of the bay and estimated that 130-140 individuals were using this area over the month. This was a significant finding as it represents the highest density of snubfin dolphins reported to date.

“In April 2014, the researchers repeated that survey, saw mostly the same individuals, and produced a very similar abundance estimate.

“These surveys, along with what we know from other research in the bay including monthly surveys by WWF-Australia and Yawuru traditional owners, suggest that the bay is of importance to snubfin dolphins year-round,” Alex said.

While there are more snubfins in Roebuck Bay than other parts of the Kimberley coast, Alex emphasised their vulnerability.

“The population is small by conservation standards; these low numbers, combined with their lack of mixing with an adjacent population, make them vulnerable to environmental change”.

Therefore the report encourages management agencies to prioritise measures to minimise threats, caused by humans, to this important snubfin population.

WWF-Australia has been working with the local community to protect Roebuck Bay for much of the last decade. This includes close cooperation with the Yawuru traditional owners and establishing the Roebuck Bay Working Group. Both have a proud record in promoting, researching and protecting the Bay.

Dr Alexander Watson, WWF’s Kimberley Program Manager, was encouraged by the report. “Broome locals have known for years that Roebuck Bay is a magical place. Research like this makes people more determined to protect and better understand their own backyard. WWF will continue to support research by universities and Yawuru traditional owners on species like snubfin dolphins because they are a great indicator of the Bay’s health.”

Roebuck Bay is currently internationally recognised as a RAMSAR site due to the hundreds of thousands of shorebirds that annually feed on the mudflats.

The WA Government will also recognise these values by shortly establishing the Roebuck Bay Marine Park which will be co-managed by the Yawuru traditional owners and the WA Government.

“WWF applauds the WA government for recognising and conserving Roebuck Bay’s natural and cultural values,” said Dr Watson.

“Last year the Barnett Government ended gillnet fishing in the Bay; we now look forward to seeing Roebuck Bay becoming an internationally acclaimed marine park, one which is underpinned and managed by the best scientific and cultural knowledge”.

The report is available at http://mucru.org/latest-abundance-estimate-of-snubfin-dolphins-in-roebuck-bay-released-2/
Source: WWF-Australia

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Ryan Fritz

Ryan Fritz started The Advocate in 2014 to provide not-for-profits and charities with another media platform to tell their worthwhile hard news stories and opinion pieces effortlessly. In 2020, Ryan formed a team of volunteer journalists to help spread even more high-quality stories from the third sector. He also has over 10 years of experience as a media and communications professional for not-for-profits and charities.

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