Franciscana dolphins of the Río Negro, northern Patagonia, Argentina

The franciscana dolphin is one of the most threatened dolphins in the Southern Atlantic Ocean. Inhabiting turbid, coastal waters of rivers, estuaries and the Atlantic Ocean, it is found from Itaúnas (Brazil) in the north to Península Valdés (Argentina) in the south.

The franciscana dolphin (Pontoporia blainvillei) is one of the most threatened dolphins in the Southern Atlantic Ocean. Inhabiting turbid, coastal waters of rivers, estuaries and the Atlantic Ocean, it is found from Itaúnas (Brazil) in the north to Península Valdés (Argentina) in the south.

Most of the biological information available on this species comes from dead individuals accidentally caught in fishing nets - one of the main threats it faces together with habitat loss and degradation and pollution. Little is known about the ecology of this species in the wild and this project is one of the few studies that has been carried out in Argentina.

Since 2001, the "Dolphins of Río Negro" Project has been conducting one of the few studies on the franciscana dolphin in its natural habitat, in northern Patagonia, Argentina. WDC has been supporting this work, undertaken by Fundación Cethus, since 2010.

The main goals of this project include:

  • To assess the ecology and behaviour of the franciscana dolphins in the Río Negro Estuary.
  • To undertake press and educational campaigns to raise public awareness about the endangered status of the franciscana dolphins and the threats that this and other species face.
  • To collaborate with other organisations, researchers and experts in the field to develop a coordinated plan to mitigate threats and to protect franciscana dolphins and their habitat. 
  • To share data with partner organisations. 
  • To share information at an international level with the Convention of Migratory Species, International Whaling Commission and Convention on Biological Diversity.
  • To reduce the impact from fisheries through working in collaboration with local fishing communities.
  • To enforce better legal protection for the franciscana dolphin in the Río Negro province

The project includes work in different research fields: -   

  • Genetic samples from collected from stranded individuals in order to assess the genetic structure of the species.
  • Studies on population structure, reproduction parameters, feeding ecology, chemicals pollutants, isotopes and interactions with fisheries are being developed using stranded animals and in cooperation others institutions and organizations.
  • Acoustic recordings of the species to describe the repertoire of their little known vocalisations. This will assist in the future if passive acoustic monitoring is implemented or potentially to help understand the causes of entanglement for the species.

An important component of this project is the Education Programme consisting of lectures for children in several schools in the study area where printed materials are provided.

As part of our franciscana work, we can report on the following achievements to date: -

  • An article (the first of its kind) describing echolocation signals of franciscana dolphins in the wild was published recently. This will help us to better understand the behaviour of the species and assist in the application of passive acoustic monitoring (See Melcón et al. 2012).
  • Between September 2011 and July 2012, we worked closely with local teachers, specialists in environmental education or cetaceans and graphic designers to create an Educational Booklet for 9 to 15 years old students entitled “Delfines Río Negro”.
  • To date over 16 schools have been visited, with 348 teachers and 3,350 students participating in the programme.

Scientific papers and articles of general interest magazines:

  • Melcón, M., M. Failla & M. Iñíguez. (2012). Echolocation behavior of Franciscana dolphins (Pontoporua blainvillei) in the wild. Express Letter – Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 11pp.
  • Failla M, Seijas VA, Esposito R & Iñiguez MA. (In press) Franciscana Dolphins of the Río Negro Estuary. Journal of Marine Biology Applied – UK)
  • Botta S, Hohn A, Macko S, Ferreira EC, Santos MC, Di Beneditto AP, Ramos R, Bertozzi C, Franco-Trecu V, Barbosa L, Cremer M, Cappozzo L, Failla M, Iñiguez MA & Secchi ER. (In preparation to be submitted in Marine Biology - USA) Evidence of ecological separation in franciscana dolphins based on stable isotopes.
  • La Franciscana: el delfín más desconocido y amenazado de Sudamérica. M. Failla. 2011. Revista AbismoSur. 
  • El Delfín Franciscana. Failla M. 2011. Revista Ecociencia y Naturaleza.