According to the World Conservation Congress, meeting in Barcelona, Spain, up to 25% of all wild mammals are threatened with extinction due primarily to loss of habitat and hunting/poaching. Of that total, up to 33% of all marine mammals are in peril - particularly dolphins which get caught in fishing nets and drown.
The figures released are part of an update of the Red List which lists all threatened species and is maintained by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. You can view the entire list at their web site (click here).
The reasons for this plight of so many animals runs the gamut - from habitat loss for lumber or farming in developing countries to meeting the demand for "luxury" items like chimp and gorilla meat. Whatever the reason, the loss of any animal has an impact on the overall balance and health of the local ecosystem. In fact, biodiversity - having a wide range of species - is a key element to any healthy ecosystem. This has always been one of the cornerstones of the evolutionary process.
A precise accounting of all marine mammal species is complicated by the challenges in locating these animals, compared to land-based species. Says Jan Schipper of Conservation International, "If you don't know where they are or how many there are, then it's hard to determine if they have viable populations or [are] threatened with extinction." That means that the conservative numbers offered by the World Conservation Congress could be much higher. (Read article by Ken Weiss/Los Angeles Times).