Franciscana Dolphin

( Pontoporia blainvillei )


Species Size

Franciscana Dolphins grow to an average of 6 feet. They are amongst the smallest of cetaceans.


Current Status

The Franciscana dolphin is currently classified as vulnerable by the IUCN red list with an overall decreasing population trend.

Isolated geographic subpopulations classified as endangered.

In order to ensure the continued survival of this species, there is an urgent need for coordinated veterinary conservation efforts.


The Franciscana dolphin or locally “La Plata” dolphin or “toninha” is a small river dolphin inhabiting shallow coastal waters of Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina. It is the only species of river dolphin that lives in saltwater estuaries rather than freshwater rivers. The female dolphins are actually bigger than the males. The calves when born are very small approximately only 70-75cm in length compared to bottlenose dolphins which are usually around 115cm. The diet of the dolphin is known to consist of at least 76 different prey species with around 83% of their diet being fish with the remainder consisting of mollusks and crustaceans.


The Franciscana dolphin has been documented to produce both whistles and burst pulses with sound recordings obtained as close as 2 meters to shore. Their poor eyesight and low visibility environment have resulted in a high reliance on sonar to find their prey.

Photo provided by © YAQU PACHA e.V.

Species Range

Currently, there are four different management areas for the Franciscana dolphin: Espirito Santo (ES) in Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo to Santa Catarina, Rio Grande do Sul to Uruguay, and the coast of Buenos Aires and Rio Negro in Argentina.

Stranding Network Program for the Franciscana Dolphin


Franciscana dolphins are dying at unprecedented numbers in gillnets and fishing gear. Small calves are losing their mothers and stranding. These orphans require rehabilitation for a chance at survival, and to date, rehabilitation success is minimal. This vulnerable South American species is quickly being driven to endangerment. In order to ensure the continued survival of Franciscanas, there is an urgent need for coordinated veterinary conservation efforts.


The NMMF is collaborating with Yaqu Pacha and local experts to develop a coordinated, step-wise conservation medicine action plan to ensure the survival of the Franciscana dolphin while there are still thousands remaining not a few hundred. The plan aims to unify existing South American rescue and rehabilitation efforts, streamline and augment stranding response methods, and improve neonate survivability. The effort will empower local veterinarians and arm them with the knowledge and tools to improve survivability, while the threats existing in their habitat are addressed. Marine mammal veterinary experts suspect that surrogating could increase the survivability of the orphaned calves, and this option will be explored. This project will serve as a blueprint to guide future conservation efforts for other small dolphins and porpoises that are facing similar threats.


Your contribution will directly support the collaborative enhancement of stranding response methods, including standardized stranded dolphin protocols and rehabilitation procedures to inform overall rehabilitation success and ultimately increase survivability. 

All photos provided by Fundación Mundo Marino ©


Dr. Lorenzo von Fersen – YAQU PACHA e.V. (
Dr. Forrest Gomez – National Marine Mammal Foundation (


Alliance for Franciscana-Dolphin Conservation Research, Rescue and Rehabilitation (AFC3R).

Alianza para la Conservación, Investigación, Rescate y Rehabilitación del Delfin Franciscana

Barratclough, Ashley National Marine Mammal Foundation
Cabrera, Andrea D. Fundación Mundo Marino
Canabarro, Paula Lima Centro de Recuperacao de Animais Marinhos, Museu Oceanografico “Prof. Eliézer de C. Rios”, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande (CRAM-FURG)
da Silva Filho, Rodolfo Pinho Aiuká Consultoria em Solucoes ambientais
Faiella, Adrian Aquarium Mar del Plata – Argentina
Ferrando; Virginia – Karumbe
Ferreira, Emanuel Carvalho – Associacao R 3 Animal
Gomez, Forrest – National Marine Mammal Foundation
Kolesnikovas, Cristiane kiyomi Miyaji – Associacao R 3 Animal
Laporta, Paula – Yaqu Pacha Uruguay
Loureiro, Juan Pablo – Fundación Mundo Marino
Meegan, Jenny – National Marine Mammal Foundation
Milanesi Cintra, Carolina – Associacao R 3 Animal
Rodriguez Heredia, Sergio Andres – Fundación Mundo Marino
Ruoppolo, Valeria – Aiuká Consultoria em Solucoes ambientais
Saubidet, Alejandro – Aquarium Mar del Plata – Argentina
Smith, Cynthia – National Marine Mammal Foundation
Sweeney, Jay Dolphin Quest
Vélez-Rubio, Gabriela M – NGO Karumbé
von Fersen, Lorenzo – YAQU PACHA & NUREMBERG ZOO, Germany