Franciscana Dolphin

( Pontoporia blainvillei )

SCIENTIFIC CLASSIFICATION

Species Size

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

CURRENT THREATS

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.

SPECIES OVERVIEW

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.

BAHAVIOR/SOUND

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.

Species Range

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

Stranding Network Program for the Franciscana Dolphin

THE PROBLEMS

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.

WHAT ARE WE DOING?

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.

HOW CAN YOU HELP?

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 ©

PROJECT CONTACTS:

Dr. Lorenzo von Fersen – YAQU PACHA e.V. (lorenzo@vonfersen.org)
Dr. Forrest Gomez – National Marine Mammal Foundation (forrest.gomez@nmmf.org)

PROJECT TEAM:

Ashley Barratclough – NMMF, USA
Leo Berninsone – AquaMarina, Argentina
Andrea Cabrera – Fundacion Mundo Marino, Argentina
Lorenzo von Fersen – Nuremberg Zoo, Germany
Forrest Gomez – NMMF, USA
Sergio Heredia – Mundo Marino, Argentina
Sebastian Jimenez – CICMAR Centro de Investigación y Conservación Marina, Uruguay
Cris Kolesnikovas – R3 Animal, Brazil
Juan Pablo Loureiro – Mundo Marino, Argentina
Jenny Meegan – NMMF, USA
Valeria Ruoppolo – Aiuka, Brazil
Cynthia Smith – NMMF, USA
Rae Stone – Dolphin Quest, USA
Jay Sweeney – Dolphin Quest, USA