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World’s Rivers and Dolphins at Risk

Dwindling freshwater dolphin numbers are raising concerns about the declining health of some of the world’s most important rivers, shows a new study by WWF. According to the report, the main culprit is the increasing pressure that unchecked human demands for food, energy and other goods is placing on freshwater ecosystems.

River dolphins and porpoises swim in some of the world’s largest rivers, including the Yangtze , Ganges, Mekong , Indus and Amazon. But these river basins are also home to hundreds of millions of people in some of the most densely populated and poorest areas of the planet.

In these regions and many others, human actions including unsustainable fishing, toxic run-off from agriculture and industry, as well as the construction of dams and infrastructure projects that block river flows have contributed to the decline of freshwater dolphins. The same factors will also have a major impact on people. Learn what WWF is doing to protect fresh water habitats and resources

Worldwide, WWF is calling on:


Learn more about the world’s freshwater dolphins and what WWF is doing to protect their river habitats.

  • Governments to take leadership on biodiversity conservation, ensuring sustainable river flows for river dolphins and people and that action is taken to meet our needs and improve living conditions in ways that benefit both river dolphins and people;
  • Local stakeholders to adopt better management practices on fishing and farming that will meet demands for food, but reduce the negative impacts on river dolphins;
  • Businesses to become water stewards, improving efficiency and reducing pollution in their operations, encouraging their suppliers to do the same, and actively supporting efforts by governments, NGOs, and others to improve water management.

Counting dolphins to save South America’s rivers

Since 2006 the Omacha Foundation, with WWF support, has travelled thousands of miles along the most important rivers in South America. In the past four years they have spotted more than 4,000 dolphins in the Orinoco and Amazon basins, broken down among three different species: the grey (Sotalia fluviatilis), the pink (Inia geoffrensis) and the Bolivian (Inia boliviensis).


Join researchers on the first expedition to count river dolphins on the Colombian Amazon’s Putmayo River. Learn more about the South American River dolphin, threats and its cultural significance. © WWF

To conduct these surveys, scientists travelled throughout South America’s rivers to learn how many dolphins live in this region, their health, and how to develop a long-term conservation program. This survey method is also being applied to a similar study in Asia, which hosts the world’s only other significant population of freshwater dolphins.

Overall, there are an estimated 40,000 thousand river dolphins in the region. Even though this may sound like a healthy population, dolphins are more threatened now than ever. Deforestation, water pollution from mining, overfishing, the use of dolphin meat as bait and infrastructure projects are some of the biggest threats to these species.

By monitoring the dolphins and their health, biologists hope that these aquatic mammals, with their playful habits and unique appearance, could become a charismatic symbol for preserving the Orinoco and Amazon basins.

Now there is a plan supported by WWF to protect freshwater dolphins in South America, using this research as a basis. The Action Plan for South American River Dolphins: 2010-2020 covers the status of South American river dolphin species, threats to their survival and measures needed to better understand and address those threats.

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Learn more:

  • World Water Week
  • Amazon
  • Mekong
  • Yangtze
  • Whales and Dolphins

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