Continental Shelf of the Northern Humboldt Current IMMA

Size in Square Kilometres

50 142 km2

Qualifying Species and Criteria

Burmeister’s porpoise – Phocoena spinipinnis 

Criterion A; C (2); D (1)

Dusky dolphin – Lagenorhynchus obscurus

Criterion A; C (2); D (1)

Marine Mammal Diversity 

Otaria byronia, Lontra felina, Delphinus delphis, Tursiops truncatus, Megaptera novaeangliae, Grampus griseus, Mesoplodon peruvianus

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The Humboldt Current generates high levels of productivity that support large populations of anchovies (Engraulis ringens) and other small pelagic fish off the coast of Peru. These conditions provide ideal habitat for a number of marine mammals, in particular small cetaceans. Burmeister’s porpoises (Phocoena spinipinnis) and the Peru-Chile subspecies of dusky dolphins (Lagenorhynchus obscurus posidonia), use the continental shelf between 6 ° and 10 ° S as a core foraging ground. Both of these species’ distribution overlap with both small-scale and industrial fisheries, which are thought to have led to population declines, highlighting the need for conservation measures for these species.

Description of Qualifying Criteria

Criterion A – Species or Population Vulnerability

The Peruvian/Chilean dusky dolphin (Lagenorhynchus obscurus posidonia) is genetically distinct from other dusky dolphins (Cassens et al., 2004), and is listed as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (Mangel & Alfaro-Shigueto, 2019), mostly due to the impacts of bycatch on the population for over 4 decades (Read et al., 1988; Van Waerebeek et al., 1994, 1997, 2002). While there are no range-wide abundance estimates for L. o. Posidonia, the population is thought to have been severely depleted by human activities over the course of many decades, particularly off Peru (Read et al., 1988; Van Waerebeek, 1994; Van Waerebeek et al., 1997; Mangel et al., 2010; Alfaro-Shigueto et al., 2018). This decline is evidenced by a change in the species composition of cetaceans landed in central Peru through direct hunts and bycatch in fisheries between 1985 and 2017: Dusky dolphins comprised 77.5% of individuals in 1985-1990 (Van Waerebeek et al., 1994), 52.8% in 1991-1993 (Van Waerebeek, 1997); only 45% during 1995-1999, and had reduced to 25.4% during 2000-2017 (Van Waerebeek, 2002 and 2018). This was interpreted as a decline in abundance of the subspecies due to impacts of fisheries.

In addition El Nino events that affect their main prey, anchovies (Engraulis ringens) (Manzanillo and Naim, 2010), might also play an important role in determining the conservation status of the subspecies. Human-induced threats are likely expanding in the future, and could lead to the extirpation of this subspecies off Peru. While the Burmeister’s porpoises (Phocoena spinipinnis), is listed as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List of threatened species (Felix et al., 2018), genetic studies suggest that the Peru population is distinct from the Chile-Argentina population (Rosa et al., 2005). Similarly to L. o. posidonia, Burmeister’s porpoise has been impacted by incidental mortality in fisheries (Read et al., 1988; Van Waerebeek et al., 1997; Mangel et al., 2010; Torres and Sarmiento, 2018) as well as by use for human consumption (Mangel et al., 2010; Campbell et al., 2018), particularly in the northern portion of the species’ range off Peru.

Criterion C: Key Life Cycle Activities

Sub-criterion C2: Feeding Areas

The productivity associated with upwelling in the Humboldt current (Bertrand et al., 2004) offers optimal foraging conditions for several small cetaceans (Llapapasca et al., 2018). Two species including the Burmeister porpoise and the Peruvian/Chilean dusky dolphin use the area as a foraging ground (Reyes, 2009; Garcia Godos et al., 2007; Llapapasca et al., 2018). Large aggregations of foraging Burmeister’s porpoises have been documented around Guanape island, Salaverry (van Waerebeek et al., 2008). Clay et al. (2018) described habitat preferences for the species off Salaverry (8 S) to be within 20–30km of shore, in water depths of 50 m or less, and sea temperatures are around 17–18◦C. These areas overlap with small-scale gillnet fisheries (Mangel et al., 2010; Torres and Sarmiento, 2018). Studies from stomach contents of Burmeister’s porpoises incidentally captured in these fisheries found that anchovies composed 77.6% of prey items, followed by mote sculpin (Normanichthys crockeri) 8.8%, Chilean silversides (Odontesthes regia) 7.96%, and cephalopods (5.22%) (Garcia-Godos et al., 2007). The distribution of dusky dolphins in this region overlaps that of pelagic-neritic prey species (e.g. Peruvian anchovies, silverside and mackerels (Scomber sp.) (Llapapasca et al., 2018; SNP, 2022). Stomach content analyses revealed that dolphins’ main prey are mote sculpin (Normanichthys crockeri – 76.0%) and anchovies (16.79%), followed by South Pacific hake (Merluccius gayi – 0.97%), and other species including slimtail lanternfish (Lampanyctus parvicauda), and Inca scad (Trachurus murphyi) (Garcia-Godos et al., 2007).

Criterion D: Special Attributes

Sub-criterion D1: Distinctiveness

Rosa et al. (2005) found fixed differences in mtDNA of Burmeister’s Porpoises between animals sampled in Peru and those sampled in Chile and Argentina. Results were consistent with levels of differentiation at a subspecies or higher level (Taylor et al., 2017). However, the basis for a change in taxonomy has not been evaluated. The genetic data also supported differences, though of a lesser degree, between the porpoises sampled in Chile and those in Argentina, which would be consistent with morphological differences between the animals in the two ocean basins reported by Corcuera et al. (1995). Globally dusky dolphin populations are generally considered stable and not severely threatened . However this is not the case for the Peruvian/Chilean dusky dolphin subspecies, especially in its range off Peru, where it is considered threatened.

Supporting Information

Alfaro-Shigueto, J., Mangel, J.C., Pajuelo, M., Dutton, P.H., Seminoff, J.A. and Godley, B.J. 2010. Where small can have a large impact: Structure and characterization of small-scale fisheries in Peru. Fisheries Research 106 (1): 8-17.

Bakun A, Weeks S J. 2008. The marine ecosystem off Peru: What are the secrets of its fishery productivity and what might its future hold? Progress in Oceanography. 79:290-299.
Bertrand, A., Segura, M., Gutiérrez, M., & Vásquez, L. 2004. From small‐scale habitat loopholes to decadal cycles: a habitat‐based hypothesis explaining fluctuation in pelagic fish populations off Peru. Fish and fisheries, 5(4), 296-316.

Cassens, I., Van Waerebeek, K., Best, P. B., Tzika, A., Van Helden, A. L., Crespo, E. A., & Milinkovitch, M. C. 2005. ‘Evidence for male dispersal along the coasts but no migration in pelagic waters in dusky dolphins (Lagenorhynchus obscurus)’. Molecular Ecology, 14(1), 107-121

Clay, T. A., Mangel, J. C., Alfaro-Shigueto, J., Hodgson, D. J., & Godley, B. J. 2018. Distribution and habitat use of a cryptic small cetacean, the Burmeister’s porpoise, monitored from a small-scale fishery platform. Frontiers in Marine Science, 5, 220.

García-Godos, I., Van Waerebeek, K., Reyes, J. C., Alfaro-Shigueto, J. and Arias-Schreiber, M. 2007. Prey occurrence in the stomach contents of four small cetacean species in Peru. Latin American Journal of Aquatic Mammals 6(2): 171-183.

Hamilton, T.A., Redfern, J.V., Barlow, J., Ballance, L.T., Gerrodette, T., Holt, R.S., Forney, K.A, and B.L. Taylor. 2008. Atlas of Cetacean sightings from the Southwest Fisheries Science Center Cetacean and Ecosystem Surveys : 1986-2005. NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS, NOAAA-TM-NMFS-SWFSC- 440.

Llapapasca, M.A. and Quinones, J. 2021. Modelos de hábitat potencial de odontocetos teutogagos (Grampus griseus y Globicephala spp) en el ecosistema norte de la Corriente de Humboldt. Boletin del Instituto del Mar del Peru 361, pagina 224-238.

Mangel, J. and Alfaro-Shigueto, J. 2019. Lagenorhynchus obscurus ssp. posidonia. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2019: e.T134820643A151580809. Accessed on 02 September 2022.

Mangel, J.C., Alfaro-Shigueto, J., Van Waerebeek, K., Cáceres, C., Bearhop, S., Witt, M.J., Godley, B.J. 2010. Small cetacean captures in Peruvian artisanal fisheries: High despite protective legislation. Biological Conservation 143(1): 136-143.

Montecino, V. and Lange, C.B., 2009. The Humboldt Current System: Ecosystem components and processes, fisheries, and sediment studies. Progress in Oceanography, 83(1-4), pp.65-79.

Read, A. J., Van Waerebeek, K., Reyes, J. C., McKinnon, J. S., & Lehman, L. C. (1988). The exploitation of small cetaceans in coastal Peru. Biological Conservation, 46(1), 53-70.

Reyes, J. C. and Oporto, J. A. 1994. Gillnet fisheries and cetaceans in the southeast Pacific. Reports of the International Whaling Commission 15: 467-474.

Reyes, J.C. and Van Waerebeek, K. 1995. Aspects of the biology of Burmeister’s porpoise from Peru. Reports of the International Whaling Commission 16: 349-364.

Reyes, J. 2009. Ballenas, delfines y otros cetáceos del Perú. Una fuente de información. Squema ediciones.

Rosa, S., Milinkovitch, M. C., Van Waerebeek, K., Berck, J., Oporto, J. A., Alfaro-Shigueto, J., Van Bressem, M. F., Goodall, R. and Cassens, I. 2005. Population structure of nuclear and mitochondrial DNA variation among South American Burmeister’s porpoiises (Phocoena spinipinnis). Conservation Genetics 6: 431-443.

Sociedad Nacional de Pesqueria, 2022. Programa Salvamares. Data de avistamientos de mamiferos marinos obtenidos durante la pesqueria de anchoveta industrial.

Taylor, B.L., Archer, F.I., Martien, K.K., Rosel, P.E., Hancock‐Hanser, B.L., Lang, A.R., Leslie, M.S., Mesnick, S.L., Morin, P.A., Pease, V.L. and Perrin, W.F. 2017. Guidelines and quantitative standards to improve consistency in cetacean subspecies and species delimitation relying on molecular genetic data. Marine Mammal Science 33: 132-155.

Taylor, B.L., Chivers, S.J., Larese, J. and Perrin, W.F. 2007. Generation length and percent mature estimates for IUCN assessments of Cetaceans. NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center, La Jolla, California. Administrative Report LJ-07-01.

Torres, D., and Sarmiento, D. 2021. Interacción de cetáceos con la pesqueria de enmalle artesanal en Lambayeque (06°S – 07°30’S). Boletin Instituto del Mar del Peru, Vol. 36 Núm.1.

Tzika, A.C., D’Amico, E., Alfaro-Shigueto, J., Mangel, J.C., van Waerebeek, K. and Milinkovitch, M.C. 2010. Molecular identification of small cetacean samples from Peruvian fish markets. Conservation Genetics 11(6): 2207-2218.

Van Bressem, M.-F., Van Waerebeek, K., Reyes, J.C., Dekegel, D. and Pastoret, P.-P. 1993. Evidence of poxvirus in dusky dolphin (Lagenorhynchus obscurus) and Burmeister’s porpoise (Phocoena spinipinnis) from coastal Peru. Journal of Wildlife Diseases 29(1): 109-113.

Van Bressem, M.F., Cassonnet, P., Rector, A., Desaintes, C., Van Waerebeek, K., Alfaro-Shigueto, J., Van Ranst, M. and Orth, G. 2007. Genital warts in Burmeister’s porpoises: Characterization of Phocoena spinipinnis papillomavirus type 1 (PsPV-1) and evidence for a second, distantly related PsPV. Journal of General Virology 88(7): 1928-1933.

Van Bressem, M.F., Van Waerebeek, K. and Raga, J.A. 1999. A review of virus infections of cetaceans and the potential impact of morbilliviruses, poxviruses and papillomaviruses on host population dynamics. Diseases of Aquatic Organisms 38(1): 53-65.

Van Waerebeek, K., Santillán, L. and Reyes, J.C. 2002. An unusually large aggregation of Burmeister’s porpoise Phocoena spinipinnis off Peru, with a review of sightings from the eastern south Pacific. Noticiario Mensual Museo Nacionald e Historia Natural de Chile 350: 12-17.

Van Waerebeek, K., Van Bressem, M. F., Felix, F., Alfaro-Shigueto, J., Garcia-Godos, A., Chavez-Lisambart, L., Onton, K., Montes, D. and Bello, R. 1997. Mortality of Dolphins and Porpoises in Coastal Fisheries off Peru and Southern Ecuador in 1994. Biological Conservation 81: 43-49.

Van Waerebeek, K., Van Bressem, M.-F., Alfaro-Shigueto, J., Sanino, G.P., Montes, D. and Ontón, K. 1999. A preliminary analysis of recent captures of small cetaceans in Peru and Chile. International Whaling Commission, Scientific Committee Document SC/51/SM17, Cambridge, UK.


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