Preparing to release a tagged Franciscana (Pontoporia blainvillei) in Bahia San Blas, Argentina, March 2008. © Chicago Zoological Society’s Sarasota Dolphin Research Program

ICPC Priority Species and Projects

Integrated Conservation Planning for Cetaceans was formed to undertake the work needed to develop and implement an integrated conservation plan for each of the most threatened dolphin and porpoise species and populations.


Species were selected to be the target of the first ICPC efforts on the basis of the following:

• their poor conservation status (e.g., Endangered or Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List)]

• the imminence and scale of catastrophic decline,

• and the potential for effective mitigation and conservation.


Filling Information Gaps

Priority concerns for ICPC include

1) Filling information gaps in the distribution of the animals; and

2) Understanding the threats they face, and the magnitude of those threats


ICPC Priority Projects

ICPC priority projects are now underway for the following 4 dolphin and porpoise species or subspecies, and in the initial planning stages for one subspecies. All of these are highly threatened, however we recognise that these are not the only species vulnerable to extinction:

• Atlantic humpback dolphins (Sousa teuszii) – Critically Endangered

• Yangtze finless porpoise (Neophocaena asiaeorientalis asiaeorientalis) – Critically Endangered

• Franciscana (Pontoporia blainvillei) – Vulnerable

• Indus and Ganges River dolphins (Platanista gangetica minor, and Platanista gangetica gangetica) – Endangered

• Lahille’s dolphin (Tursiops truncatus gephyreus) –  Vulnerable

• tucuxi (Sotalia fluviatilis) – Endangered

More details on these species are provided below.


1. Atlantic humpback dolphins occur in West Africa in 13 countries, and are classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List. They occur only in shallow coastal waters, are uncommon, and are suffering from multiple threats particularly bycatch in coastal fisheries. ICPC is working to: help CCAHD researchers design and conduct surveys to fill information gaps on distribution, abundance and threats to the species’ survival. This work will identify sites of regular humpback dolphin occurrence or refugia where tagging and/or photo-identification research can be conducted. This is crucial to be able to understand distribution and movements of individuals with respect to the distribution of threats, which will help to inform future integrated conservation efforts. Atlantic humpback dolphins are also the target of a Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) concerted action.


2. Yangtze finless porpoises are found only in the Yangtze River in China and are Critically Endangered, with only about 1,800 mature individuals remaining. They are threatened by accidental deaths in fishing gear, sand mining, environmental pollution, vessel traffic, and overfishing. In an effort to assess the ongoing integrated conservation program as a model for other dolphins and porpoises, ICPC assembled an expert panel which participated in a workshop at the Institute for Hydrobiology in Wuhan, China during 24–27 November 2019. ICPC is working to: follow up this workshop by creating an addendum to the current action plan to operationalize recovery goals for the Yangtze finless porpoise. That addendum will necessarily include biologically justified targets for population growth, and design of a monitoring system so that population status in different parts of the river ecosystem, along with in situ threats, can be routinely assessed and accurately quantified.


3. Franciscana dolphins in Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina are dying in gillnets in large numbers. ICPC held a workshop in San Clemente del Tuyu, Argentina during 4–6 November 2019 to assess the available knowledge base and engage with the researchers and government agencies involved in franciscana conservation in the range state. ICPC is working to: expand the capture/tag/release programme for franciscanas in Brazil and Argentina to include biological data gathering in support of rehabilitation/release of live

3. Franciscana dolphins (cont’d.)

by-caught and stranded franciscanas and to inform the possible future development of an integrated conservation plan using the One Plan approach. Goals for additional studies of franciscana include conducting health assessments of live adult dolphins, and improving the care provided to orphaned franciscana calves found stranded on beaches. The researchers involved are working with ICPC biologists and veterinarians to develop health assessment protocols and design field trials to learn more about the response of franciscanas to capture, and to handling for increasing periods to allow health assessment and transport.


4. Indus river dolphins in Pakistan are primarily threatened by continuing loss of habitat due to the use of riverine water for irrigation of arid lands occupied by an increasing human population. Additionally, most individuals are constrained to several fairly small sections of a single river (the Indus mainstem) and are thus vulnerable to a catastrophic event. The Ganges river dolphin is more numerous than the Indus dolphin, has a wider range, and has suffered a less drastic range decline. However, increasing threats including bycatch in fishing gear, high levels of industrial pollution, shipping, poaching, habitat fragmentation by barrages, flow regulation for hydropower generation, and flow depletion from diversions for irrigation. In both countries, dolphins become trapped and often die in irrigation canals. ICPC is working to: facilitate researchers working in country to build capacity in veterinary and husbandry care for Indus and Ganges dolphins that are rescued from irrigation canals by establishing collaborations with local NGOs and individuals. Current efforts are focused on strengthening the animal handling and veterinary capacity of local researchers to conduct health assessments on rescued animals.


5. Lahille’s bottlenose dolphin (a coastal population of bottlenose dolphins in the western South Atlantic) have recently been recognized as a distinct subspecies (T. t. gephyreus Lahille, 1908) by the Society for Marine Mammalogy’s Taxonomy Committee. In addition to a restricted distribution within the inshore waters of Southern Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina, T. t. gephyreus has small and fragmented populations, which are exposed to a number of significant threats, including bycatch in coastal gillnets, high pollutant levels, and a high incidence of individuals with chronic dermatitis. Recent evidence suggests a progressive disappearance of the subspecies in the La Plata River estuary, where they were once common. The sum of the available abundance estimates suggests a maximum total population size of 600 individuals. With an estimated 60% of mature individuals, the total number of mature individuals can be estimated at 360; the subspecies was classified as “vulnerable” by a recent IUCN Red List assessment. ICPC is working to: facilitate the development of projects that will help fill critical health information gaps that will aid in our overall understanding of this rapidly declining subspecies.


6. Tucuxi (Sotalia fluviatilis) is an endemic freshwater dolphin species inhabiting the Amazon basin. Tucuxi are found throughout the Amazon, occurring in all types of water, but there are no estimates of population size for most parts of the tucuxi’s range. In some areas observed rates of declines are consistent with a ‘critically endangered’ status. Threats include accidental entanglement in fishing nets, habitat fragmentation due to dam building and associated decreases in food supply, and the effects of pollutants and continued habitat destruction. Genetic evidence suggests two distinct subpopulations of Sotalia fluviatilis: one in the upper Amazon of Colombia and Peru and the other in the middle and lower Amazon in Brazil, while the genetic distinctiveness of the isolated Ecuador subpopulation still needs to be evaluated. ICPC is working to support researchers studying the distribution, movements, and genetic distinctiveness of tucuxi in Colombia and Ecuador and develop a better understanding of localized threats across their range.

Participants at the Symposium on Progress of Yangtze Finless Porpoise Conservation held in Wuhan, China, 21-27 November 2019.