Dolphin conservation in West Africa

Geographical location:

Africa/Madagascar > Africa General

Africa/Madagascar > West Africa > Cape Verde
Africa/Madagascar > West Africa > Gambia
Africa/Madagascar > West Africa > Guinea
Africa/Madagascar > West Africa > Guinea-Bissau
Africa/Madagascar > West Africa > Mauritania
Africa/Madagascar > West Africa > Senegal

Early morning, pirogues (wooden boats of local fishermen) waiting to go to sea. Senegal.
© WWF-Canon / Jo BENN


The waters off West Africa are home to several dolphin species, including the endemic Atlantic humpback dolphin and a largely isolated population of long-beaked common dolphins. These dolphins, however, are facing increasing pressure from unsustainable fisheries, habitat destruction, illegal killing, expanding tourism, and the growing risks of offshore oil and gas exploration.

WWF is working with West African countries to promote effective conservation measures to protect these endangered dolphin species. This includes a comprehensive assessment report on the status, distribution, key habitats and threats facing the dolphins, which will contribute to coordinating local and regional action plans.


The West African Marine Ecoregion (WAMER) spans a 3,500km coastline in Western Africa and covers 6 countries: Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau and Guinea. This coast presents a wide variety of habitats, from rocky cliffs, broad sandy beaches, and extensive seagrass beds in the north, to dense mangrove forests and pronounced estuaries in the south.

Among its most striking features are the unique coral reefs of Cape Verde, and the powerful coastal upwellings of cold water that support one of the most diverse, and economically important, fishing zones in the world. The upwellings are primarily the result of the year-round trade winds that push surface waters away from the coast and draw cold, nutrient-rich waters from deep in the ocean up to the surface. These rich waters meet the tropical sun to provide a perfect environment for microscopic plants - the foundation of a tremendously productive food chain that supports incredible biodiversity.

West African waters harbour several species of small cetaceans, among them the endemic Atlantic humpback dolphin (Sousa teuszii) and a largely isolated population of long-beaked common dolphins (Delphinus capensis). In contrast to other regions in the world, the conservation status of small cetaceans in West Africa is not well known.

Following a regional workshop in Conakry, Guinea, held in May 2000 on the conservation and management of small cetaceans of the African coast, the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS) showed its support at its 7th meeting (CoP 7) in September 2002. It supported the development of appropriate instruments for the conservation of small cetaceans in West Africa, notably through action plans and the establishment of a regional memorandum of understanding (MoU) (resolution 7.7 and recommendation 7.3). However, the development of conservation action plans or a regional MoU for small cetaceans in West Africa are still pending.

Against this background a project will be initiated by WWF WAMER to develop an action plan for the conservation of small cetaceans in the West African Marine Ecoregion.


The main objective of the project will be to promote the effective implementation of a policy for the conservation and management of small cetaceans, which would be widely accepted by governments and the public.

The action plan will be built around 5 areas of specific concern:
- Policy formulation.
- Regulatory and protective measures.
- Improvement of scientific knowledge.
- Improvement of law and its application.
- Enhancement of public awareness.


- Comprehensive threat analysis of issues affecting cetacean species within WAMER.
- Comprehensive and updated assessment report on the status, distribution of cetacean species, threats they are facing, their key habitats, and their socio-economic significance throughout its range.
- Small cetacean conservation action plan (outlining priority management actions for conservation) developed and effectively implemented.
- Establishment of international, regional, and national partnerships, also with potential donor agencies in the field of species conservation.
- Active network of local and regional experts on cetaceans (and other flagship species, like turtles, manatees, etc).
- Active, WAMER-related support for the development of a regional memorandum of understanding for the conservation of small cetaceans in tropical West Africa.
- Momentum for the development of other small cetacean conservation action plans in tropical West Africa.

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