Humpback dolphins: a brief introduction to the genus Sousa


Jefferson, Thomas A. and Curry, Barbara E.



Book Title

Advances in Marine Biology








Sousa chinensis, Sousa chinensis taiwanensis, Sousa plumbea, Sousa sahulensis, Sousa teuszii, General biology, Conservation, Status


The delphinid genus Sousa has recently undergone a major revision, and currently contains four species, the Atlantic humpback (Sousa teuszii), Indian Ocean humpback (Sousa plumbea), Indo-Pacific humpback (Sousa chinensis), and Australian humpback (Sousa sahulensis) dolphins. Recent molecular evidence suggests that humpback dolphins in the Bay of Bengal may comprise a fifth species. These moderate-sized dolphin species are found in shallow (<30 m), coastal waters of the eastern Atlantic, Indian, and western Pacific oceans. Abundance and trends have only been studied in a few areas, mostly in eastern Africa, China, and northern Australia. No global, empirically derived abundance estimates exist for any of the four species, but none appear to number more than about 20,000 individuals. Humpback dolphins feed mostly on small fishes, and sometimes shrimps; occur for the most part in small groups (mostly 12 or less); have limited nearshore movements; and in most parts of their range exhibit a fission/fusion type of social organization. Major threats that affect all the species are entanglement in fishing gear, and habitat degradation/destruction from various forms of coastal development. Impacts from vessel traffic (including behavioural disturbance and displacement, as well as mortality and morbidity from collisions with vessels) appear to be significant in most areas. Several other threats are apparently significant only in particular parts of the range of some species (e.g. high levels of organochlorine contaminants affecting Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins in Hong Kong). Direct hunting only occurs in limited areas and primarily on a small scale. Conservation actions so far have been limited, with most populations receiving little study and almost no management attention. Much more work is needed on humpback dolphin population status, threats, and how the major threats can be reduced or eliminated. Extinction risks for the four species and some populations are preliminarily re-assessed using the IUCN Red List criteria in the current volume. The results suggest that all four species in the genus are threatened at some level (suggested Red List status ranges from Vulnerable for S. chinensis and S. sahulensis to Critically Endangered for S. teuszii).