Brownies support whales and dolphins

29 April 2008

New Species Of River Dolphin

New dolphin species is made a national treasure

A newly classified species of river dolphin, the Bolivian river dolphin, has been hailed as a national treasure by the local Bolivian Government and will be a mascot for the country’s conservation efforts.  The move has been welcomed by WDCS, which is calling for urgent action to address the threats facing these endangered dolphins.

The announcement was made at a pioneering conservation workshop in Santa Cruz de la Sierra in Bolivia this week The workshop brought together river dolphin experts from across South America, including the world’s leading Amazon river dolphin specialist, WDCS-funded researcher, Fernando Truijillo, to devise the first ever conservation action plan to save river dolphins across the region.  

The Bolivian river dolphin (Inia boliviensis) has recently been acknowledged as a separate species to the Amazon River dolphin, or boto (Inia geoffrensis), famed for its pink colouring.  Both species are hailed as important indicator species for the health of the entire river ecosystem, but are under serious threat from pollution and fisheries. 

WDCS-funded researcher Fernando Truijillo said: “River dolphins are amongst the most endangered of all whale and dolphin species.  The pressures on them are immense, as was highlighted by the recent news of the extinction of the baiji in Asia. Urgent action is needed if we are to prevent Amazon River dolphins from suffering the same fate.” 

Unsustainable fisheries, damming, deforestation, pollution, increased vessel use and gold mining all threaten the vulnerable freshwater habitats of river dolphins.  However, it is the new danger from a catfish fishery, which is now the most urgent threat to their continued survival. Fishermen are catching and killing up to 1500 of the dolphins a year to use as bait for the scanvanger mota fish. 

In 2007, Fernando Trujillo completed the first ever survey to estimate the number of river dolphins left in the Orinoco and Amazon River basins. In total, across seven expeditions in five countries, 3188 dolphins were sighted. This initial survey, vital for starting a conservation action plan, also recruited and trained 18 researchers across South America, creating the region’s first network of trained dolphin scientists. 

Fernando’s work has also identified a number of conservation initiatives, including the creation of a region-wide action plan to curb the killing of these dolphins for bait and to find more sustainable fishing practices.  WDCS has funded Fernando and his organisation, the Omacha Foundation, for nearly 20 years, including his vital research, as well as the creation of Amazonian community groups, an education and visitor centre and field research station.

Fernando added: “The meeting in Bolivia is a crucial step forward in the conservation and protection of one of the world’s last remaining river dolphin species, helping to reverse the decline of these highly vulnerable species globally.”

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