Snubfin Dolphin

Threatened Status:

  • Vulnerable (IUCN – Global Status);
  • No status listed in EPBC due to data deficiency (Australia);
  • Vulnerable (Nature Conservation Act 1992 – QLD)


Northern Australia – QLD, NT & WA.

Identified as a new species in 2005, snubfin dolphins are found only in Australia and southern Papua New Guinea. In Australia, snubfin dolphins live in small isolated groups along Australia’s northern coastline, from the Kimberley to Gladstone.

Numbers of snubfin dolphins are so low that the species is considered vulnerable to extinction both globally and in Queensland. The main threats to snubfin dolphins are drowning in fishing nets and habitat destruction. Snubfin dolphins live in riverine, estuarine coastal waters and are recognised by their distinctive rounded head and lack of a beak, unlike other dolphins species.

Threats to Snubfin Dolphins

One of the main threats to snubfin dolphins is incidental capture in gillnets set to catch fish such as barramundi and threadfins in QLD. Like other marine mammals, once caught in a net, they can quickly drown. Other threats include habitat destruction (particularly mangroves and seagrass), pollution, boat strike, and incidental capture in shark control programs.

Snubfin dolphins have low population growth rates, which means they are especially vulnerable to decline. Because they live in small isolated populations, many of their remaining populations are not considered viable for the long-term. Even the loss of one individual dolphin from human activities can push a regional population into irreversible decline.

In October 2017, two snubfin dolphins drowned in legally set nets in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Four dugongs were also killed around this time (one of these deaths by gillnet drowning), so AMCS and other conservationists called for gillnet fishing bans in high value dugong, dolphin and turtle habitats.

Gillnets are invisible walls of death for some of Queensland’s precious marine wildlife. We need to move away from these deadly fishing methods towards more sustainable fishing, particularly within the Reef’s World Heritage waters.

What is AMCS doing about this issue?

AMCS is urging the Queensland Government to remove gillnet fishing from areas of high conservation value. As a particular priority, gillnets should be removed from the marine park waters north of Cooktown, as well as hotspots in the Bowen-Whitsunday and Gladstone-Capricorn Bunker regions This would protect Queensland’s snubfin dolphins, dugongs and turtles, as well as enhance the World Heritage values of our Great Barrier Reef.