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Saving South America’s Rarest Dolphins

Pedro Fruet was surfing off the coast of Brazil at age 12 when he was approached by several curious dolphins. The experience so transfixed him that he went on to devote his life to studying this dolphin population. He had no idea these were among the rarest marine mammals in the world, or that he would discover they are a distinct subspecies—Lahille’s bottlenose dolphin—or that he would become an integral figure in their conservation and be featured in a David Attenborough film! Pedro is our guest today, joining us from Brazil to talk with Helder Brandao about Lahille’s dolphins. With a Ph.D. in oceanography biology, he is professor and coordinator of the Marine Mammals Lab at Brazil’s Rio Grande Federal University. Pedro is the world’s foremost expert on the Lahille’s dolphin, studying it for more than 20 years. Listed as vulnerable to extinction, fewer than 600 individuals are left in southern Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. With such a small endemic population, they face grave threats from entanglement in fishing gear. While efforts to save them have included banning gill nets and establishing fishing-free protected zones, local people who fish for a living have not respected those restrictions, and dolphin numbers have continued to drop. Pedro recognized the crucial need to enlist the buy-in of local communities. The recipient of the 2021 Whitley Award, his NGO, Kaosa, is creating an integrated conservation plan in southern Brazil that seeks to achieve both species protection and a viable fishing economy. Pedro’s goal is to nurture local management that will allow future generations to continue a connection with wildlife.


Originally presented December 14, 2021
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