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martes, 22 de enero 2019
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Gulf of Urabá: Home to Dolphins

Photos by María Camila Rosso Londoño and Omacha Foundation: Common bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) feeding in the Gulf of Urabá

By: Lina Larrota – Urabá Campus Communications

The Gulf of Urabá is a strategic place thanks to its biodiversity, essential for the conservation of the planet; therefore, it has great environmental value. It is also home to high commercial value fishes—hence its economic potential—in ecosystems that become their sources of conservation; and its waters are inhabited by dolphins, although little is known about them.

María Camila Rosso Londoño is a student of the Interinstitutional PhD Program in Marine Sciences. She intends to identify the dolphins’ distribution in the gulf. Moreover, she wants to know if this distribution varies depending on climate periods, if it is related to an environmental parameter or a specific prey, and which human threats these species face in the environment.

“We know so far, thanks to the works of Jessica Patiño, student of Biology at the University, that there is a population of Guiana dolphins living in El Roto, in the municipality of Turbo. During the pilot field trips, we spotted more or less 35 bottlenose dolphins that were fishing in front of this municipality,” says the student.

The Guiana dolphin is an estuarine or coastal species and “if there is a population residing in the Gulf of Urabá, it means that the gulf conditions are appropriate for them to live there. The bottlenose dolphin is more cosmopolitan, there is a coastal morphotype and an oceanic morphotype; the first type is the one spotted in the gulf, but we still don’t know if they live there. Part of the research is to try to determine that,” explains the researcher. She also adds that the Guiana dolphin has a very restricted distribution, from Central America to Southern Brazil, whereas the bottlenose dolphin can be found in almost all waters of the world.

To know how many dolphins are in the gulf, María Camila Rosso has the support of the Colombian Navy. In one of the Coast-Guard vessels, she can zigzag the gulf.

According to the student, the Urabá community will benefit from this research because they will know better the region’s aquatic mammals; besides, the environmental authorities will have an environmental sensitivity index and extinction threat map, a valuable tool for environmental management. “Depending on the results, it would be very interesting to have a responsible tourism option or alternative for the sighting of these animals. In that way, the research would also be of benefit to many people.”

Dolphins have the ability to bioaccumulate and biomagnify heavy metals and other types of persistent pollutants; for that reason, many authors consider them as “sentinels” of the marine environment. Therefore, researching them is also useful to find signals regarding the levels of contamination in the gulf, where activities such as the dredging—that take many pollutants to the water column—are carried out.

“Many cases of boats colliding with these animals have been reported in the world. Also, submarine noises affect dolphins because they have systems that act as sonars to detect their preys, so if there is noise interference, all their feeding, reproduction, and communication behaviors can be affected,” says María Camila Rosso. Dolphins are little known in the gulf, and, taking into account the port and infrastructure development this region is experiencing, it is very important to provide elements to promote sustainable development.

That is why, to reduce these impacts, we have to learn about these dolphins first, identifying their areas of incidence and how they use them, as well as how they feed, reproduce, and travel. “Since dolphins are carnivorous animals that are at the top of the food chain, their preys and other members of the trophic network are also protected through their conservation. They are called umbrella species for that reason.”

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