Red-list status and extinction risk of the world’s whales, dolphins and porpoises

Gill Braulik*, Barbara Taylor, Gianna Minton, Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara, Tim Collins, Lorenzo Rojas-Bracho, Enrique A. Crespo, Louisa S. Ponnampalam, Michael C. Double, Randall R. Reeves

*Corresponding author for this work

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To understand the scope and scale of the loss of biodiversity, tools are required that can be applied in a standardized manner to all species globally, spanning realms from land to the open ocean. We used data from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List to provide a synthesis of the conservation status and extinction risk of cetaceans. One in 4 cetacean species (26% of 92 species) was threatened with extinction (i.e., critically endangered, endangered, or vulnerable) and 11% were near threatened. Ten percent of cetacean species were data deficient, and we predicted that 2–3 of these species may also be threatened. The proportion of threatened cetaceans has increased: 15% in 1991, 19% in 2008, and 26% in 2021. The assessed conservation status of 20% of species has worsened from 2008 to 2021, and only 3 moved into categories of lesser threat. Cetacean species with small geographic ranges were more likely to be listed as threatened than those with large ranges, and those that occur in freshwater (100% of species) and coastal (60% of species) habitats were under the greatest threat. Analysis of odontocete species distributions revealed a global hotspot of threatened small cetaceans in Southeast Asia, in an area encompassing the Coral Triangle and extending through nearshore waters of the Bay of Bengal, northern Australia, and Papua New Guinea and into the coastal waters of China. Improved management of fisheries to limit overfishing and reduce bycatch is urgently needed to avoid extinctions or further declines, especially in coastal areas of Asia, Africa, and South America.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere14090
Number of pages15
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number5
Early online date28 Jun 2023
Publication statusPublished - 28 Sept 2023


  • Bycatch
  • Cetacea
  • Marine biodiversity
  • Marine conservation
  • Marine ecosystems
  • Marine mammals
  • Threatened species
  • Bioversidad marina
  • Captura accesoria
  • Conservación marina
  • Ecosistemas marinos
  • Especies ame-nazadas
  • Mamíferos marinos


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