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Mindful conservation – why we need a new respect for nature

'We should look at whales and dolphins as the indigenous people of the seas -...
A dolphin called Arnie with a shell

Dolphins catch fish using giant shell tools

In Shark Bay, Australia, two groups of dolphins have figured out how to use tools...
Common dolphins at surface

Did you know that dolphins have unique personalities?

We all have personalities, and between the work Christmas party and your family get-together, perhaps...
Leaping harbour porpoise

The power of harbour porpoise poo

We know we need to save the whale to save the world. Now we are...
Holly. Image: Miray Campbell

Meet Holly, she’s an incredible orca leader

Let me tell you the story of an awe-inspiring orca with a fascinating family story...
Humpback whale. Image: Christopher Swann

A story about whales and humans

As well as working for WDC, I write books for young people. Stories; about the...
Risso's dolphin at surface

My lucky number – 13 years studying amazing Risso’s dolphins

Everything we learn about the Risso's dolphins off the coast of Scotland amazes us and...
Dead sperm whale in The Wash, East Anglia, England. © CSIP-ZSL.

What have dead whales ever done for us?

When dead whales wash up on dry land they provide a vital food source for...
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Port River dolphins

New report reveals 100,000 dolphins and small whales hunted every year

When you hear the words ‘dolphin hunts’ it’s likely that you think of Japan or...

Minke whale hunts stop in Iceland

Iceland’s commercial hunt of minke whales has ended for this year. The common minke whale is the...

Australian Government to block Japanese whaling proposal

Japanese Government officials have reportedly confirmed that they will propose the resumption of commercial whaling...

Pregnant whales once again a target for Japanese whalers

Figures from Japan's whaling expedition to Antarctica during the 2017/18 austral summer have revealed that...

Did Icelandic whalers really kill a blue whale?

*Warning - this blog contains an image that you may find upsetting* They say a...

Icelandic whalers breach international law and kill iconic, protected whale by mistake

Icelandic whalers out hunting fin whales for the first time in three years appear to...

Doubts remain after Icelandic Marine Institute claims slaughtered whale was a hybrid not a blue

Experts remain sceptical of initial test results issued by the Icelandic Marine Institute, which indicate...

Japan set to resume commercial whaling

Reports from Japan suggest that the government they will formally propose plans to resume commercial...

End the whale hunts! Icelandic fin whaler isolated as public mood shifts

Here’s a sight I hoped never again to witness. A boat being scrubbed and repainted...

Norway increases whaling quota despite declining demand

Norway's government has announced an increase in the number of minke whales that can be...

Icelandic fin whale hunting to resume

Iceland’s only fin whaling company, Hvalur hf,  announced today that it will resume fin whaling...

SOS alert for whales off Norway!

I have to admit to bitter disappointment when I arrived in Tromsø, northern Norway, a...

Dolphins at Risk from Amazon Dams

Most people assume dolphins live in the sea. But there is a small, less well-known group that can live hundreds of miles from the coast, swimming in freshwater rivers and lakes. The Amazon River dolphins of South America, also known as botos, are a flagship species and a symbol of the huge range of wildlife in the rainforests.  They are also at the heart of many Amazonian myths and legends.

Swimming in small groups in rivers and lakes, and among submerged trees and shrubs in flooded forests, botos can be found as far inland as the upper reaches of Amazonian tributaries, more than 1,615 miles (2,600 km) from the sea. But their days could be numbered. Nobody knows for sure how many are left in the wild but we know they face many threats.  And worryingly, in many areas dramatic declines in river dolphin numbers have been detected due to illegal poaching. Botos are cruelly and illegally killed and their meat and blubber are used to bait fish.

Adding to their troubles is the dam-building frenzy underway in the Amazon. 140 hydropower dams have already been built to generate electricity to fuel economic development, especially in Brazil. Dams disrupt river flow, natural flood cycles and nutrient deposition and they also create impenetrable barriers for species that migrate through river waters. Scientists warn that ‘thousands of species could be affected and may even go extinct.’ They state that the future of the entire Amazon River basin, its diverse wetlands and unique wildlife are in jeopardy as the damage wreaked by hundreds of proposed dams will be irreversible.

So what can be done?  Scientists are calling for Amazon-wide regional evaluations of dam proposals rather than the current local dam-by-dam assessments by individual countries.  The Amazon basin spans nine South American countries and they will need to work together and consider the consequences of proposed dam-building including the cumulative environmental and social impacts, which will be permanent.

So far dams have been justified locally as needing to supply energy for economic development. However, there are alternative ways of generating power in the region, including solar power, wind power, geothermal energy and small hydroelectric plants. Governments, scientists, developers and the energy sector need to cooperate to evaluate and develop these alternatives for the Amazon basin before it’s too late.

Amazon River dolphins have already been split into fragmented groups by dams. These groups of dolphins become isolated and gene-flow between them is affected, which in turn makes the population more vulnerable to other threats including environmental impacts (such as those brought by climate change and disease), hunting and more dams.

Today, in Asia, river dolphins are more endangered than those in South America, one of them, the baiji or Chinese river dolphin has already gone extinct in recent times (2007). Fragmentation and habitat degradation contributed to the baiji’s extinction and declining numbers of the Indus River dolphin and the Ganges River dolphin. WDC has been working to protect river dolphins and their flooded forest homes in South America for almost 30 years, and it’s not too late to prevent the repeat of these same mistakes and to save the Amazon River dolphin from further declines and eventual extinction. River dolphins may be the little-known relative of their sea swimming cousins, but in a few years, it’s possible that they won’t be remembered at all.