New species of river dolphin placed straight on the Red List

Biologists have discovered a new species of river dolphin in the Araguaia River basin of Brazil- this is the first new species described since 1918! However, they are recommending that it should go on the Red List immediately.

True river dolphins are one of the most rarest and most endangered vertebrate species. There are only four known species of river dolphin, three of which are on the Red List, meaning they are critically endangered. [1]

True river dolphins are located throughout the Amazon, Orinoco and Araguaia-Tocantis River basins. The Araguaia-Tocantis River basin isn’t actually part of the Amazon River basin, as it became disconnected in the transition from the Pliocene to the Pleistocene, approximately 5-2.5 million years ago, by the formation of huge rapids and waterfalls. River dolphins are really slow swimmers and are known to rarely leap, so they were totally cut off from the members from the Inis family.


Tomas Hrbek and colleagues from the Federal University of Amazonas in Manaus, Brazil, took mitochondrial DNA samples from river dolphins in the Araguaia and Tocantis rivers. They observed over 120 of the Araguaian animals over the 12 week study period and, to their amazement, they discovered a totally new species. Their research was published in the journal Plos One.

Hrbek has named the new species Inia araguaiaensis (commonly known as the Araguaian Boto).  This new species was found to only have 24 teeth per jaw, rather than the 25 to 29 found in the Amazon’s other river dolphins.  (Hrbek et al., 2014)

There are only approximately 1000 of these dolphins, and researchers are already concerned about what the future holds for this exquisite species, due to its low genetic diversity. The Araguaia river basin has been under significant anthropogenic pressure through agricultural activities and the construction of hydroelectric dams. [2]

Hrbek believes that due to the threats it faces, the dolphin should be immediately categorised as Vulnerable on the Red List, this could be the first time in history that a newly discovered animal is placed directly onto the Red List.


Hrbek, T., Ferreira da Silva, V.M., Dutra, N., 2014. A New Species of river Dolphin from Brazil or: How Little Do We Know Our Biodiversity. PLOS ONE 9.


Blackout at Puerto Rico’s Bioluminescent Bay

Last term I studied a module called ‘Conservation and Biodiversity- Global and Local Scales’- sounds boring? It was the total opposite. For a nature lover like myself, It was truly fascinating to be able to discover more about what makes our little Island of Great Britain so, well, great! With our epic biodiversity in the hotspot of political debate, there couldn’t possibly be a better time to address the issues surrounding conservation.

But how can ecosystems benefit us? Humans are selfish beings, and so this question is at the forefront of politicians lips. My argument is why aren’t they beneficial? Any conservation biologist will be able to tell you about the ‘services’ of the ecosystem for humans, from supporting nutrient and seed dispersal allowing our vegetables to grow and flourish, to providing drugs from the countless shrubs, flowers and trees, as well as regulating the climate, purifying water and air and producing crops allowing us to build houses and feed our families. Not forgetting ecosystems provide us with cultural intelligence, space for recreational activities and the tools for scientific discovery. For example, in 1965, Thomas Brock managed to isolate Taq polymerase, a highly useful DNA polymerase from the thermophilic bacterium Thermus aquaticus. Nowadays, this polymerase is used daily in laboratories, aiding PCR. Without Taq polymerase, PCR wouldn’t give as high yields as it does.

Man affects biodiversity in every sense. Changes in population, technology, lifestyles, and even cultural and religious views can affect biodiversity, causing changes in local land use cover, species interaction and more. For example, a religious uprising could cause an increase in fish consumption, decreasing the fish population or increasing the application of fertilisers to increase food production. These interactions take place across all geographical and time scales, for example, the international demand for timber may lead to regional deforestation, increasing the flood magnitude along a local stretch of river.

In June 2010, I won a competition run by Earthwatch and Bluewater Shopping Centre in Kent. The prize for conveying a passion for conservation and scientific research was the opportunity of a lifetime.

I got the chance to pick an expedition of my choice to go on, for free! I chose ‘Puerto Rico’s Rainforest’s’ and I had the most incredible time, meeting people from all over the US, and really enhancing my love of travelling and Biology- I’ll tell you more about my adventure in a future blog post!

Happy Kayakers enjoying the glow of the Bio Bay.
Happy Kayakers enjoying the glow of the Bio Bay.

Puerto Rico’s ‘Grand Lagoon’ on Fajardo is a Bioluminescent Bay, and one of the last few remaining bays of its kind. It has become a top tourist destination, with tourist companies taking fleets of intrigued tourists out onto the bay in kayaks, to bear witness to this magical glow as you streak the water with your paddle. And during my day off on the expedition, we travelled to witness its beauty, and it was magnificent.

However, in November, this bio-bay went dark. And no one knows why.

From the 11th November, the darkness caused chaos. Excursions had to be cancelled and visitors reimbursed as the department of Natural Resources Secretary Carmen Guerrero and a team of highly trained scientists travelled to the site to find out what had caused the blackout.

The glow’s caused by the inhabiting dinoflagellates, oceanic plankton which emit an emerald green and ultramarine shine, which depend on a delicate balance of nutrients, vitamins, water temperature and quality in order to glimmer.

Gossip surrounding the devastation travelled around Puerto Rico like wildfire. Common topics included the recent storms could have caused giant waves and the clearing of mangroves to create larger paths for big boats. Another contributing factor could have been the runoff from the nearby water and sewer plant construction. This plant is actually being constructed to protect the lagoon from sewage discharge, but has it had an accidental detrimental effect?

The Bio-bay had a blackout in 2003, with the glow returning a few months later. There are about 700 jobs on the line should this ecosystem rupture, and rumour has it only a fraction of the luminescence has returned, proving that something has caused the bay to blacken.

Will the ‘Great Lagoon’s glow return? Let’s hope so, and soon.

Want to find out more…?