Dec. 5 (UPI) -- For the first time, scientists have tagged Amazon dolphins and are now tracking them using satellite technology.
Researchers organized by the World Wildlife Fund tagged 11 freshwater dolphins in Brazil, Colombia and Bolivia. Transmitters were attached to both Amazonian and Bolivian river dolphins, two of the four dolphin species found in the Amazon.
Scientists currently list the four Amazon dolphin species as "data deficient" on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. It's estimated that there are several thousand dolphins living in the world's largest river system, but scientists know little about their populations, behavior or habitat.
With fresh tracking data already coming, researchers can begin to study the dolphins' locations and movements -- where they migrate, mate and feed.
"Satellite tracking will help us better understand the lives of this iconic Amazonian species more than ever before, helping to transform our approach to protecting them and the entire ecosystem," Marcelo Oliveira, a conservation specialist with WWF, said in a news release. "Tagging these dolphins is the start of a new era for our work because we will finally be able to map where they go when they disappear from sight."
Oliveira, who led the tagging effort in Brazil, hopes the new tracking data will help scientists detail the most immediate risks facing river dolphins. Dams, illegal fishing and pollution from mining operations all pose threats to the vulnerable species.
"We who live in the Amazon know that our environment is facing growing and unprecedented threats and that our future is linked to the future of dolphins," said Fernando Trujillo, a research partner in Columbia. "This tagging project is critical because it will generate information that will enable governments across the region to target resources to protect dolphins and their habitats, which so many other species and communities also depend on."
After being rounded up, netted and tagged, researchers collected tissue samples to measure mercury levels. None of the 11 dolphins were injured during the netting, tagging and sampling process, and all of the dolphins were freed within 15 minutes of capture.