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Minke whale © Ursula Tscherter - ORES

The whale trappers are back with their cruel experiment

Anyone walking past my window might have heard my groan of disbelief at the news...
Boto © Fernando Trujillo

Meet the legendary pink river dolphins

Botos don't look or live like other dolphins. Flamingo-pink all over with super-skinny snouts and...
Risso's dolphin entangled in fishing line and plastic bags - Andrew Sutton

The ocean is awash with plastic – can we ever clean it up?

You've seen pictures of plastic litter accumulating on beaches or marine wildlife swimming through floating...
Fin whale

Is this the beginning of the end for whaling off Iceland?

I'm feeling cautiously optimistic after Iceland's Fisheries Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir wrote that there is little...
Mykines Lighthouse, Faroe Islands

Understanding whale and dolphin hunts in the Faroe Islands – why change is not easy

Most people in my home country of the Faroe Islands would like to see an...

Dolphin scientists look like you and me – citizen science in action

Our amazing volunteers have looked out for dolphins from the shores of Scotland more than...
Atlantic white-sided dolphins

The Faroes dolphin slaughter that sparked an outcry now brings hope

Since the slaughter of at least 1,423 Atlantic white-sided dolphins at Skálafjørður in my home...
Fin whale

From managing commercial slaughter to saving the whale – the International Whaling Commission at 75

Governments come together under the auspices of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) to make decisions...

Dolphins, genetics and conservation

This past week saw the identification of yet another new species of dolphin (an Australian humpback dolphin called Sousa sahulensis): http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jul/03/australian-snubfin-and-humpback-dolphins-at-risk-of-localised-extinction?utm_content=buffer59341&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

Advances in the use of genetic profiling of dolphins reveals that coastal populations are made up of increasingly smaller and relatively isolated units, rendering them especially susceptible to local extinction.

These fine scale genetic differences will require a fundamental rethink of the way science conceives of conservation. In previous times conservation focussed on large scale units and as long as the general population was not threatened the status of sub groups within the species was not considered very important.

In addition, the new but rapidly advancing field of epigenetics is demonstrating that an organism’s DNA is only part of their genetic story because the environment in which it lives actually determines how the genes function. There is even evidence that the organism’s environment is able to change the very structure of its genes so that their offspring, in essence, inherit their parent’s experiences and environment.

Advances in the study of dolphin culture also reveal behaviours passed from generation to generation which allow them to better adapt to their local environment.

All this points to two conclusions: conserving the diversity of a species means conserving its environments; and that the units of conservation will become ever smaller.

Science still knows very little about the way in which individual animals contribute to the functioning of local dolphin societies but it seems likely that we will find at least some individual dolphins play significant roles.

If (when) the significance of individual dolphins in communities is identified WDC will finally have scientific justification for that which we know to be intrinsically true: every individual dolphin in every dolphin community matters!