::: South America Update :::River dolphin count in Venezuela begins | WWF

::: South America Update :::
River dolphin count in Venezuela begins

Posted on
07 June 2006
After a rain-sodden trip of 380km on the Orinoco River, expedition members who left for Venezuela on 9 May to carry out the first part of a South American river dolphin census in Venezuela have been able to report back on some initial findings.

‘We saw approximately 270 dolphins in 87 different sightings," said Fernando Trujillo, director of Fundación Omacha, the Colombian institution leading the dolphin survey. The team surveyed several different rivers — Cachivero, Capanaparo, Caura, Apure, Arauquita, Soapure — and observed two dolphin species: Amazon River dolphin (Inia geoffrensis) and Tucuxi (Sotalia fluviatilis).

The expedition also allowed researchers to check on the state of the rivers as well as the surrounding environment and possible threats.

"We saw many deforested areas and landscapes transformed by agriculture, particularly cotton plantations," added Trujillo. "Near Jobal there is an enormous bauxite processing plant where aluminum is produced. In spite of traveling in the low fishing season, we were able to see many fishermen and freezer lorries loading up with fish, especially large catfish."

In spite of poor weather conditions, scientists kept up their enthusiasm and continued with their work.

“Supporting this project means that methods for studying aquatic mammals can be improved," emphasized Marcela Portocarrero, a biologist with the Fundación Omacha. "And knowledge gained from the survey can help with our conservation work of these threatened species."

The coordination and development of the expedition had the support of the Venezuelan researcher Félix Daza of the Wildlife Conservation Society, who worked with auxiliary field workers Betzaida Carpio and Darwin Castillo in the important task of counting the dolphins.

In the same way, several deep fishing areas were checked by Nirson González, a biologist from the Fundación La Salle. He said many interesting species of fish were collected which will help in understanding the ecology of these rivers.

Fernando Trujillo stressed the need to increase economic resources in order to guarantee better boats and thus obtain trustworthy results in the dolphin counts.

“The support of the environmental organizations that back up these expeditions has been excellent," he added. "We have also been able to consolidate an effective communication campaign involving many people.”

The South American dolphin survey is being supported by the Wildlife Conservation Society Fundación La Salle, Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, and WWF.

“Dolphins are a very charismatic species and public opinion regarding conservation in South American rivers as a result of using these in awareness campaigns can be useful," says Saulo Usma, coordinator of WWF-Colombia’s Orinoco Basin Programme.

“There is a strong connection between dolphins and fishing and as a result of a study on these species overfishing and contamination problems can be examined further."


• Participants in the first stage of the survey:
Colombia: Fernando Trujillo (Fundación Omacha), Diana Pardo (biologist, Universidad Nacional) and Marcela Portocarrero (Fundación Omacha). Venezuela: Nirson González (Fundación La Salle), Félix Daza, Betzaida Carpio, Darwin Castillo (WCS).

• The second and third stages of the river dolphin census will take place in July in rivers in Ecuador and Colombia, and in August in Peru.
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