Challenges and priorities for river cetacean conservation


Campbell, E.

Additional Authors

Alfaro-Shigueto, J., Aliaga-Rossel, E., Beasley, I., Briceño, Y., Caballero, S., Da Silva, V.M.F., Gilleman, C., Gravena, W., Hines, E., Khan, M.S., Khan, U., Kreb, D., Mangel, J.C., Marmontel, M., Zhigang Mei,, Mintzer, V.J., Mosquera-Guerra, F., Oliveira-da-Costa, M., Paschoalini, M., Paudel, S., Kumar Sinha, R., Smith, B.D., Turvey, S.T., Utreras, V., Van Damme, P.A., Wang, D., Whitty, T.S., Thurstan, R.H., Godley, B.J.



Volume & Issue




Country / Region

Bolivia, Indonesia, Peru, Myanmar, Venezuela, Pakistan, Ecuador, Brazil, China, Nepal, Colombia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, India

Document Type

Peer-reviewed journal article


Irrawaddy dolphin, Indus River Dolphin, Ganges River Dolphin, Tucuxi, Yangtze finless porpoise, Amazon river dolphin, All River dolphins

Conservation Measure

Research and monitoring, Multiple conservation measures, Regional/ International collaboration

Threat Keywords

All threats reviewed


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.