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La Plata Dolphin

Orinthoptera alexandrae

La Plata DolphinThe Species and its Habitat

The La Plata dolphin is among the smallest and most endangered of dolphins. The species is endemic to the coastal Atlantic waters off central South America in southern Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina. This dolphin is perhaps the cetacean most affected by human activities in this area. It is estimated that at least 500 dolphins are accidentally caught every year during fishing operations along the Argentinean coast. The incidental gillnet killing of tens of thousands of dolphins over the last 30 years has undoubtedly significantly reduced the total population. The real impact of these captures remains unknown, mainly because of the uncertainties about existing stock.

As might be expected, more than half of the recorded catches are females and less-experienced young dolphins. La Plata dolphin can live to be just over 20, but most live to only 12 years. Females can produce four to eight calves in their lifetimes, from the age of three or four. Calves are weaned at eight to nine months. This low potential population growth makes the species highly vulnerable to human impacts. The number of interbreeding populations is unknown, as are the chances for its long-term survival. The overall aim of our project is to discover knowledge required for timely conservation action, and especially to investigate the impact of human activities on the survival chances of this species.

Project Leader: Pablo Bordino

Pablo BordinoI was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1966. I have been interested in nature since I was a child. In those days, I used to spend my time sailing the La Plata River and visiting the Parana Delta with my parents and sister. I know now that was the time I discovered my love for nature. As would be expected in such circumstances, I was heavily influenced by the aquatic environment. My early education was based in Arts and Sciences, perhaps as a result of having a mother who was an artist, and a father who was a scientist. As I grew up, I studied Natural Sciences and received a degree in Aquatic Biology from the University of Buenos Aires in 1992. I continued studying and was awarded a Master in Sciences in 1994. This education was supplemented by postgraduate courses in Behavioural Ecology and Coastal Management in the United States. As a student, I volunteered at the Marine Mammals Lab in the National Museum of Natural Sciences in Buenos Aires for five years. At the same time, I also held a scholarship in Palaeontology over two years. My professional background includes a position as Professor in Biology at university and secondary schools.

Pablo Bordino with La Plata DolphinAlthough Argentina has included environmental protection in its constitution, it still has not formed an efficient environmental policy. As in many other developing countries, biodiversity conservation in Argentina has to face the lack of human resources, focused research and an effective, integrated management plan, as well as lack of environmental awareness and commitment from the general public and the authorities.

One of the most threatened environments in my country is the costal area in Buenos Aires. For this reason, and supported by friends and colleagues, I launched AquaMarina-CECIM (Centre for Marine Sciences) in 1999. The Group has been established to develop a strategy based in education and field-conservation activities. The Centre develops and conducts a series of long-term research projects on marine ecology and biodiversity in Argentina. Conservation of La Plata dolphin is the flagship project of AquaMarina research activities.

However, all projects have enabled us to work on education and public awareness. Also, AquaMarina is the basis upon which to train students and professionals. The Research Internship Program is designed to teach skills in research methodology, teamwork or scientific discipline.

On behalf of the AquaMarina team, let me say thank you very much for all the support we have received. Definitely, we all, together with your help, will make a difference.

Study areas for the La Plata Dolphin ProjectLa Plata Dolphin Project - Fundacion AquaMarina CECIM, Argentina

Since 1992, the Research Team has studied La Plata dolphins in Northern Patagonia, Argentina. Seasonal periods of study have allowed us to discover ecological aspects of the species important for its conservation. Results obtained include information about seasonal patterns of behaviour and displacements of dolphins, as well as a preliminary estimation of abundance in the study area. Since 1994, the Research Team has also been studying the interaction between the local fishery and dolphins in several fishing areas along the Buenos Aires coast. A previous test into the effectiveness of attaching acoustic alarms to the nets to work as dolphin deterrents has reported good preliminary results. However, a longer study is necessary to take the research further. We strive for all this information to be used for conservation purposes.

Work done to date includes:

- Survey on Ecology and Behaviour
- Preliminary abundance estimation
- Fishing gear modifications to reduce dolphin by-catch
- Conservation Management
- Environmental education
- Training of human resources
- Meetings with Federal and Provincial Environmental Authorities
- Socio-environmental studies

The results to date have been important but much more information is needed. Our work suggests that the La Plata dolphin cannot sustain the current level of incidental mortality. Prompt management actions are needed, at least on a regional basis. We are using the information obtained in the field to work with local authorities to improve the protection laws for the La Plata dolphin in Argentina.

Dolphin TeamOne of lessons we have learnt during these years has been to understand that the biggest problem about human impacts on marine life and habitats is that we do not know enough about what we are dealing with. As fisheries collapse around the world the necessary solutions conflict with economic needs, and issues become political. Firm facts are needed - managers are powerless without them, politicians will not act without them, and people may not even care without them. The facts will come from science and research, and we aim to find those facts soon.

We are confident that the results obtained from our planned future work will be of great value for the conservation of the La Plata dolphin. By working together, the National Authorities, the local people of Argentina, and the La Plata dolphin project, can increase the survival possibilities of this endangered coastal species.

WildInvest has decided to expand our funding to make the La Plata Dolphin a symbol of Marine Conservation in Argentina. It is an honour for us to receive the WildInvest Continuation Award this year.

Project Update

La Plata DolphinOnce again, let me say thank you for all your hospitality and the great time I spent in London. Personally, to win the WildInvest Continuation Award this year has been one of the most important things for my career. As you know, it has an international recognition and locally many people will pay more attention now to our Project. The members of the team have a particular enthusiasm after being recognized as part of this Project, and as you can imagine it gives extra energy for their work in the field. As I told you, money helps a lot, but I believe that new doors, some unexpected doors, will be open now, and it is an unmeasureable result.

The Government of Buenos Aires is evaluating whether to declare the La Plata Dolphin a Natural Monument for the Province. Only three species are listed in the same category in Argentina. It gives a particular enforcement to protect dolphins and the coastal area in Buenos Aires.

Winning the award has definitely helped to move the local political machine. Supporting conservation activities in developing countries like Argentina has been frustrating for many international organizations because it is difficult to evaluate and produce a change. You can be sure that we will do our best to produce a real difference with our Project. I will be sending updates about all the work here.

Finally, it has been a pleasure to meet all you there...hope you feel you have new friends down here!

Take care, Pablo

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