All 5 river dolphin species now threatened with extinction

Posted on December, 10 2020

IUCN Red List classifies the tucuxi river dolphin as endangered
It’s official – all five of the world’s river dolphin species are now threatened with extinction after the IUCN Red List re-classified the tucuxi, moving it from Data Deficient to Endangered.

According to the press release from the IUCN Red List, “this small grey dolphin species found in the Amazon river system has been severely depleted by incidental mortality in fishing gear, damming of rivers and pollution.”

“Eliminating the use of gillnets – curtains of fishing net that hang in the water – and reducing the number of dams in tucuxi habitat are priorities to enable numbers to recover. Enforcing the ban on the deliberate killing of tucuxis is also essential,” adds the release.

As part of the South American River Dolphin Inititative (SARDI) WWF has been working with governments, partners and communities to conserve the tucuxi dolphins, including gathering the data upon which their new classification was based. The information on their status and behaviour, which can now be found on the South American river dolphin dashboard, will also be critical to developing effective ways to safeguard them and the rivers they inhabit.

“Classifying the tucuxi as endangered does not come as a surprise to those of us working to conserve these extraordinary animals, but it is still a shock to see that all of the world’s remaining river dolphins are now officially threatened with extinction,” said Daphne Willems, Lead WWF River Dolphins Rivers initiative.

“WWF is committed to doing everything we can to save these iconic species, which are indicators of the health of some of the world’s greatest rivers – like the Amazon, Ganges, Indus, Irrawaddy, Mekong and Yangtze: rivers which countless species and hundreds of millions of people rely on.”

Under the global River Dolphin Rivers initiative, WWF is working with partners to tackle the threats to all five species of freshwater cetacean – the Amazonian pink, tucuxi, South Asian and Irrawaddy river dolphins and the Yangtze finless porpoise. All five species face many of the same threats, including poorly-planned hydropower dams, pollution and accidental bycatch.

While all 5 species are threatened with extinction, progress has been achieved in recent years.

In Pakistan, collaborative efforts involving fishers, communities, WWF and the authorities have seen Indus river dolphin numbers rise from 1200 to almost 2000 in the past two decades. Meanwhile, the Irrawaddy dolphin population in the Mekong is now stable after decades of decline – although only 89 remain. Concerted efforts in China have also stabilized the rapid decline of the Yangtze finless porpoise.

“River dolphins face a host of threats so we are using every available tool to try and save them, from rescuing individual dolphins stranded in irrigation channels to halting harmful mega-hydropower dams, from working directly with fishers to using cutting-edge technology, including satellite tagging and drones,” said Willems.

“Our global initiative is the best chance yet to safeguard all five river dolphin species – and by saving them, we will save so much more.”
Tucuxi river dolphin (Sotalia fluviatilis) in the Amazon river basin
© Fernando Trujillo / Fundación Omacjha
Tucuxi river dolphin in the Amazon
© Fundación Omacha / Fernando TRUJILLO
Indus river dolphin rescue
© Uzma Khan / WWF Pakistan