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ESR 49:13-42 (2022)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/esr01201

REVIEW
Challenges and priorities for river cetacean conservation

Elizabeth Campbell1,2,3, Joanna Alfaro-Shigueto1,2,3, Enzo Aliaga-Rossel4, Isabel Beasley5, Yurasi Briceño6, Susana Caballero7, Vera M. F. da Silva8,9, Cédric Gilleman10, Waleska Gravena9,11, Ellen Hines12, Mohd Shahnawaz Khan13, Uzma Khan14, Danielle Kreb15,16, Jeffrey C. Mangel1,3, Miriam Marmontel17, Zhigang Mei18, Vanessa J. Mintzer19,20, Federico Mosquera-Guerra21,22,23, Marcelo Oliveira-da-Costa24, Mariana Paschoalini25,26, Shambhu Paudel27, Ravindra Kumar Sinha28,29, Brian D. Smith30, Samuel T. Turvey31, Victor Utreras32, Paul André Van Damme33, Ding Wang18, Tara Sayuri Whitty34,35, Ruth H. Thurstan1, Brendan J. Godley1

1Centre for Ecology and Conservation, University of Exeter, Cornwall TR10 9FE, UK
2Carrera de Biología Marina, Universidad Científica del Sur, 15067 Lima, Peru
3ProDelphinus, Miraflores, Lima 15074, Peru
4Institute of Ecology, Universidad Mayor de San Andrés, 6042 La Paz, Bolivia
5School of Earth and Environmental Studies, James Cook University, 4811 Townsville, Australia
6Centro de Ecología, Instituto Venezolano de Investigaciones Científicas, 1020A Altos de Pipe, Venezuela
7Laboratorio de Ecología Molecular de Vertebrados Acuáticos (LEMVA), Biological Sciences Department, Universidad de los Andes, 111711 Bogotá, Colombia
8Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazonia, 69067-375 Manaus AM, Brazil
9Associação Amigos do Peixe-boi-AMPA, 69067-001 Manaus AM, Brazil
10Asociación Solinia, Iquitos, Loreto 16001, Peru
11Instituto de Saúde e Biotecnologia, Universidade Federal do Amazonas, 69460-000 Coari, Brazil
12Estuary & Ocean Science Center, San Francisco State University, Tiburon, CA 94920, USA
13WWF-India, 172-B, Lodi Estate, New Delhi 110 003, India
14WWF-Pakistan, Ferozepur Road, 54600 Lahore, Pakistan
15Yayasan Konservasi RASI, 75124 Samarinda, Indonesia
16Laboratory of Hydro-Oceanography, Faculty of Fisheries, Mulawarman University, 75199 Samarinda, Indonesia
17Instituto de Desenvolvimento Sustentável Mamirauá, 69553-225 Tefé AM, Brazil
18Key laboratory of Aquatic Biodiversity and Conservation of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Institute of Hydrobiology, 430072 Wuhan, China
19Wildlife Research Partnerships, Asheville, NC 28813, USA
20Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences Program, School of Forest, Fisheries, & Geomatics Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32653, USA
21Fundación Omacha, 111211 Bogotá DC, Colombia
22Laboratorio de Ecología Funcional, Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, 110231 Bogotá DC, Colombia
23Laboratorio de Ecología del Paisaje y Modelación de Ecosistemas, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, 111321 Bogotá DC, Colombia
24WWF-Brasil, 70377-540 Brasília DF, Brazil
25Instituto Aqualie, 36033-310 Juiz de Fora MG , Brazil
26Laboratório de Ecología Comportamental e Bioacústica, Universidade Federal de Juiz de Fora, 36033-320 Juiz de Fora MG, Brazil
27Tribuvan University, Institute of Forestry, Post Box 43, 33700 Pokhara, Nepal
28Department of Zoology, Patna University, Patna 800005, India
29Shri Mata Vaishno Devi University, Katra 182320, Jammu & Kashmir, India
30Wildlife Conservation Society, 2300 Southern Blvd., Bronx, NY 10460, USA
31Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London, Regent’s Park, London NW1 4RY, UK
32Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad (INABIO), Quito 170135, Ecuador
33Faunagua, Instituto de Investigación Aplicada de Recursos Acuáticos, Sacaba-Cochabamba 31001, Bolivia
34Keiruna Inc., Escondido, CA 92026, USA
35Myanmar Coastal Conservation Lab, 12011 Mawlamyine, Myanmar
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: River cetaceans are particularly vulnerable to anthropogenic impacts due to their constrained ranges in freshwater systems of China, South Asia, and South America. We undertook an exhaustive review of 280 peer-reviewed papers and grey literature reports (1998-2020) to examine the current status of knowledge regarding these cetaceans and their conservation. We aimed to better understand the scale of threats they face, and to identify and propose priority future efforts to better conserve these species. We found that the species have been studied with varying frequency and that most of the research on threats has focused on habitat degradation and fragmentation (43%, mainly driven by dams and extractive activities such as sand mining and deforestation), and fishery interactions (39%, in the form of bycatch and direct take). These threats occur across all species, but more information is needed, primarily on quantifying the population impacts as a basis for designing mitigation measures. Other threats identified include pollution, vessel collisions, traditional use, and poorly managed tourism. Emerging methods such as environmental DNA and unmanned aerial vehicles are described for studying these species. Promising conservation interventions include cetacean-specific protected areas, natural ex situ protection, community-led conservation, and education programmes. However, transnational political will is required for a step change towards broad-scale protection in freshwater environments. In addition, we propose increasing capacity building, developing management plans, working closely with fishing communities, enhancing public awareness, expanding regional collaborations, and diversifying funding.


KEY WORDS: River dolphins · Threat · Management · Bycatch · Dams · Dolphin-fishery interactions · Research prioritisation · Emerging methods


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Cite this article as: Campbell E, Alfaro-Shigueto J, Aliaga-Rossel E, Beasley I and others (2022) Challenges and priorities for river cetacean conservation. Endang Species Res 49:13-42. https://doi.org/10.3354/esr01201

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