© naturepl.com / Kevin Schafer / WWF
River Dolphins
Dolphins are important indicators for the health of the rivers they live in, which are also the lifeblood of huge economies and hundreds of millions of people.


Where freshwater dolphin populations are thriving, it is likely that the overall river systems will be flourishing too – as well as all of the communities, companies and countless other species that depend on them.


There are only six extant species of river dolphins left in the world today and they are all endangered or critically endangered.  This is because pollution, dams, shipping and bycatch have taken their toll on this iconic species.
WWF's River Dolphin Rivers Initiative
By 2030, we will have stopped the decline of river dolphin populations in Asia and South America, and will have restored and doubled some populations. We will achieve this by tackling the three major systemic threats to river dolphins – unsustainable fisheries, hydropower and infrastructure, and pollution.
Building a movement and stopping the decline

© naturepl.com / Doc White / WWF

Making People Care

Gain Political Momentum – Inter governmental declaration signed by 2021. The initiative will catalyse political momentum by engaging with the governments of the range states and bringing various partners on board. 

Communication, Awareness and Fundraising Campaign. As many people do not know river dolphins exist, let alone that they are at risk of extinction, we will launch an awareness campaign to inform people and governments about their river dolphin species and the urgency of the situation to save them and their habitats.


Reducing Threats

System planning: Sambor campaign and free flowing river section is maintained.  This phase will urgently take up the issue of water infrastructure that is posing an immediate threat to river dolphin populations. This is especially critical in the case of the Irrawaddy dolphin subpopulation in the Mekong River. The initiative will support activities to prevent construction of the Sambor and Stung Treng dams in the core habitat of Irrawaddy dolphins.

Mapping polluters and habitat degraders. The initiative will map all major polluting industries and identify critical sectors in river dolphin habitats. This will develop a baseline and key industries to be targeted for adoption of water stewardship and transformation of their business practices, which will improve water quality in dolphin ranges. 

Sustainable fisheries. A carefully targeted and practical review of fishery policies and laws in the river dolphin range countries will be conducted, with recommendations for specific changes needed to reduce the impacts of fishing on the dolphins.

© Jaime Rojo / WWF-UK

Better River Dolphin Management

Baseline population and range data completed by 2023. Another immediate step is to better understand the extent of, and any shifts in, dolphin ranges so we can properly protect their habitats. 

Systematic River Dolphin Protected Area management implemented in 60 protected areas globally by 2023. We will invest in improving patrolling and law enforcement in the existing 60 river dolphin protected areas. We will develop and systematically rollout Conservation Assured | River Dolphins Standards to ensure a robust and standardized approach to the management of river dolphins and their habitat.