05 December 2017
River dolphin populations threatened in Amazon as WWF take first step to unmasking the information necessary to help save this mysterious mammal
5 December 2017, Sao Paulo – For the first time ever, WWF and research partners are tracking river dolphins in the Amazon using satellite technology after scientists successfully tagged 10 river dolphins in Brazil, Colombia and Bolivia. Despite their iconic status, little is known about the populations and habits of river dolphins in the Amazon. The species are currently listed as Data Deficient on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
As of today, 10 dolphins, have been safely tagged in Brazil and Colombia they include two of the four species of freshwater dolphin found in the world’s largest river system. The scientists attached small transmitters and took blood samples that will provide new insights into the impacts of hundreds of new dam development, mercury poisoning as a result of gold mining and fishing on the dolphin’s 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.”
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.”
Along with installing the transmitters, the scientists also took samples from the animals, which they will analyse for mercury levels and general health.
WWF and its 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 WWF’s long-term 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 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, WWF 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.
--- ends ---
Notes to Editors:
Photos and video of the tagging expeditions in the Amazon can be found here: http://bit.ly/2j7TQy6
Under this programme, WWF partnered with the Mamirauá Institute, Omacha Foundation, FaunAgua, Pro Delphinus, Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation, and the State Department of Environment of Amazonas.
For more information, please contact:
Jonathan Jones | WWF-UK | firstname.lastname@example.org | Tel: +44 1483 412241
WWF is one of the world’s largest independent conservation organisations, with more than five million supporters and a global network active in more than one hundred countries. Through our engagement with the public, businesses and government, we focus on safeguarding the natural world, creating solutions to the most serious environmental issues facing our planet, so that people and nature thrive. Find out more about our work, past and present at wwf.org.uk.