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Tracking of Amazon river dolphins

As of today, 10 dolphins have been safely tagged in Brazil and Colombia. Scientists attached small transmitters and took blood samples that will provide new insights into the dolphins' movements, behaviour and health. Researchers are already studying the incoming data to find out where the dolphins go, where they feed, and how far they migrate.

Marcelo Oliveira, WWF Conservation Specialist said:

“The river dolphin is an icon of the Amazon and one that is facing an uncertain future. Mercury from illegal gold mining is poisoning their waters and food and dams are cutting off migratory routes. WWF’s objective is to understand the effects of these threats on river dolphin populations which have been isolated.

“Tagging these dolphins is the start of a new era for our work because we hope to be able to map where they go when they disappear from sight. Satellite tracking will help us better understand the lives of the river dolphin more than ever before, helping to transform our approach to protecting them.”

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Using the data from tagged dolphins

The tracking data will also guide efforts to tackle some of the major threats facing river dolphins, including hundreds of planned dams that would separate many of the Amazon’s remaining free flowing rivers, worsening mercury contamination from small-scale gold mining, and illegal fishing. This would result in groups of dolphins being cut off from one another, unable to interact and breed and potentially threatening the long-term survival of these populations.

Fernando Trujillo from Fundación Omacha, a Colombian research partner said:

"We who live in the Amazon know that our environment is facing growing and unprecedented threats and that our future is linked to the future of dolphins. This tagging project is critical because it will generate information that will enable governments across the region to target resources to protect dolphins and their habitats, which so many other species and communities also depend on.”

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Next steps

Along with installing the transmitters, the scientists also took samples from the animals, which they will analyse for mercury levels and general health. 

We along with our partners will assess this historic tagging operation over the coming months and will look to scale it up and tag more dolphins if the technology continues to prove successful. The initiative is the latest step in our efforts to conserve river dolphins across the Amazon.

The capture and tagging of the dolphins followed a rigid protocol that prioritises the welfare of the animals. WWF Colombia worked with local people to select the best sites to capture the dolphins in a calm manner.  Having been caught in nets by teams of specialists, the dolphins were taken to shore for tagging in an operation lasting 15 minutes on average, before being released back into the water.

In addition to scientific research, we will continue to work with communities in the Amazon, advocate with authorities for better decision-making around dam development and the use of mercury in mining and promote the creation of new protected areas.

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