Taiwan Military Fires Directly into Critically Endangered Humpback Dolphin Habitat

Kyodo News reported today:

"Taiwan's military fired grenades and mortar shells into a key habitat for endangered dolphins during live-fire exercises Wednesday, an environmental protection group said.

A dwindling population of Chinese white dolphins [humpback dolphins] was at risk from howitzers in the Da-an River Estuary on Taiwan's west coast, a major habitat for the dolphins, the Taipei-based Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association said.

"The military is not showing any regard for the welfare of this critically endangered group of dolphins,'' said Christina Macfarquhar, a researcher at Wild at Heart....

[Other than the fact that the military was firing in that area, equally disturbing was the military’s response to questions from Kyodo...]

"...Asked for comment, military media liaison officer Col. Ben Wang confirmed the exercises, saying shells had been fired into the water.

But he said he was unaware of concerns about the dolphins.

"Taiwan has Chinese white dolphins?" he said.

"This isn't the first time we've conducted these exercises -- these are regular maneuvers," he added.

Macfarquhar said the military had participated in Cabinet-level meetings on protecting the dolphins, "so they should be aware of this issue."

"The fact that they're firing shells right into the habitat shows how much attention they've paid to it," she added.

(Click here for the full article)

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Note from Wild:

In fact, the National Council for Sustainable Development (under the Executive branch of the government) has now held two interagency meetings on "Action to Protect Taiwan's Humpback Dolphin Population" (on 29 August 2008 and 26 February 2009) and representatives from the Ministry of National Defense attended both of them and made statements suggesting that military units were being required to reduce the impact of live firing exercises on the dolphins. But judging by today’s display this does not include avoiding firing right into their habitat.

The exercises, which were scheduled for 8:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. this morning and 2:00 pm to 4:30 pm this afternoon, were to be carried out between the Daan River estuary and just south of the Dachia River estuary (see map and weapon details in the official notice (Chinese)). Both of these estuaries are located within the dolphins’ narrow, restricted coastal habitat (see map).

Similar live firing exercises in May caused great concern amongst fishermen worried about the impacts of in these areas on coastal and estuarine ecology and on their livelihoods – estuaries are one of the most productive types of ecosystem in the world.

After receiving information about the activities yesterday, Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association faxed an urgent letter of concern to the MND, calling attention to risks to the dolphins and to fisheries. This morning, after firing had already started, the MND called to say that it did not accept faxes and to send a paper copy. The exercises continued as planned (we will post a video soon).

Wild and the other members of Matsu's Fish Conservation Union will be working with the Ministry of National Defense and the National Council for Sustainable Development to try to prevent further direct military firing into the dolphins' habitat.

Read more about the humpback dolphins at the Matsu's Fish Conservation Union blog: http://taiwansousa.blogspot.com.