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Ocean's mammals at critical turning point, new global report warns

A team of international scientists says the future of the world’s ocean mammals is at a critical turning point.

Maui's dolphins. Source: Supplied

Massey University marine mammal expert and professor Karen Stockin is part of the team from 30 institutes and 13 countries challenging current understanding and conservation efforts for marine mammals globally.

The researchers found that climate change and pollution are among the key drivers of decline in numbers of the world’s 126 marine mammal species.

“We are at a pivotal point where a ONE HEALTH approach is needed to tackle the big wicked problems such as toxoplasma in Maui’s dolphins,” Stockin says.

According to the researchers, 21 per cent of marine mammal species are listed as "data deficient" in the IUCN Red List – meaning not enough is known to assess their conservation status.

“This lack of knowledge makes it difficult to identify which species are in need of protection and what actions should be taken to save them,” their report states.

Professor Brendan Godley, who leads the Exeter Marine research group, believes technology is the key to addressing the gaps in data.

"To continue conservation successes and reverse the downward trend in at-risk species, we need to understand the threats they face and the conservation measures that could help.

"Technology, such as drone and satellite imaging, electronic tags and molecular techniques are among the tools that will help us do this.

"Additionally, sharing best practice will empower us – and this is why we are so proud to be part of such a large and international group for this project."

The research was published in Endangered Species Research and led by Dr Sarah Nelms.