First-ever tagging of Amazon dolphins to boost conservation efforts

December 5, 2017, WWF
Credit: Jaime Rojo / WWF-UK

For the first time ever, WWF and research partners are now tracking river dolphins in the Amazon using satellite technology after scientists successfully tagged dolphins in Brazil, Colombia and Bolivia, attaching small transmitters that will provide new insights into the animals' movements and behaviour and the growing threats they face.

As of today, 11 dolphins, including both Amazonian and Bolivian – two of the four species of freshwater dolphin found in the world's largest river system – have safely been tagged and researchers are already studying the incoming data.

Despite their iconic status, little is known about the populations, habits or key habitats of river dolphins in the Amazon. While there are estimated to be tens of thousands of river dolphins, the species are currently listed as Data Deficient on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The tags will enable WWF and its partners to study where the dolphins go, where they feed, and how far they migrate.

"Satellite tracking will help us better understand the lives of this iconic Amazonian species more than ever before, helping to transform our approach to protecting them and the entire ecosystem," said Marcelo Oliveira, WWF Conservation Specialist, who led the expedition in Brazil. "Tagging these dolphins is the start of a new era for our work because we will finally be able to map where they go when they disappear from sight."

Credit: Clovis Fabiano / WWF-Brazil

The tracking data will also guide efforts to tackle some of the major threats facing river dolphins, including hundreds of planned dams that would fragment many of the Amazon's remaining free flowing rivers, worsening mercury contamination from small-scale gold mining, and illegal fishing.

"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," said Fernando Trujillo from Fundación Omacha, a Colombian research partner.

"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," added Trujillo.

Credit: Clovis Fabiano / WWF-Brazil

The capture and tagging of the dolphins followed a rigid protocol that prioritises the welfare of the animals. 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. None of the dolphins were injured during the operation and none displayed any ill effects after release.

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.

In addition to scientific research, WWF will continue to work with communities, advocate with authorities and promote the creation of new protected areas.

Credit: Jaime Rojo / WWF-UK
Credit: Clovis Fabiano / WWF-Brazil
Credit: Jaime Rojo / WWF-UK

Explore further: Bolivia enacts law to save Amazon river dolphins

Related Stories

Researchers help protect Peru's river dolphins

May 16, 2017

River dolphins and Amazonian manatees in Peru will benefit from new protection thanks to a plan developed with help from the University of Exeter. Researchers from the university's Penryn Campus in Cornwall worked with Peruvian ...

Irrawaddy dolphins functionally extinct in Laos

October 26, 2016

The population of critically endangered Mekong River Dolphins—also known as Irrawaddy Dolphins —  in the Cheuteal trans-boundary pool between southern Laos and northern Cambodia has shrunk by 50 per cent this year alone ...

Dolphins follow the trawlers

July 11, 2017

New research has shown that dolphins offshore of Western Australia's Pilbara coast are following fishing trawlers to feed on injured or discarded fish.

Recommended for you

Galactic center visualization delivers star power

March 21, 2019

Want to take a trip to the center of the Milky Way? Check out a new immersive, ultra-high-definition visualization. This 360-movie offers an unparalleled opportunity to look around the center of the galaxy, from the vantage ...

Ultra-sharp images make old stars look absolutely marvelous

March 21, 2019

Using high-resolution adaptive optics imaging from the Gemini Observatory, astronomers have uncovered one of the oldest star clusters in the Milky Way Galaxy. The remarkably sharp image looks back into the early history of ...

Physicists reveal why matter dominates universe

March 21, 2019

Physicists in the College of Arts and Sciences at Syracuse University have confirmed that matter and antimatter decay differently for elementary particles containing charmed quarks.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.