Inia araguaiensis, a newly discovered species of river dolphin, is already endangered. A large population lives in Cantão State Park.

Institute Araguaia is already using drone photography to monitor the porpoise population in Cantão

Talking a breath

Talking a breath

How a balloon can count dolphins

Since the species was described in January 2014 by INPA and University of Dundee, and it became evident that Cantão was the key protected area for its conservation, we began to develop a methodology to monitor its population in the park. We surveyed lakes throughout the park and found that in the dry season all of Cantão's dolphins concentrate in a few large lakes whose period of isolation is shorter than most. By towing a helium balloon behind a canoe with electric motor we are able to accurately count dolphins in the large lakes where they congregate in the dry season, and thus monitor population trends within the park. We tested this method in May and June 2015. In June 2015 Brazilian biologist Julia Furstenau Oliveira began field work for a master's thesis at the University of Freiburg (Germany) in association with Instituto Araguaia and University of Brasilia, on methods for population censuses of river dolphins. Her work will focus on comparing the traditional count method using a boat with counts utilizing aerial images from drones and balloons.

This will validate the methodology and allow us to conduct the first accurate census of the new species starting in October 2015, when the dry season is at its height. Between August and October of 2016 it will be dry enough for us to conduct a second census, validating results from 2015 and starting the process of tracking population trends. In the wet season months between the two counts the team will focus on documenting dolphin behavior, again using the blimp (weather permitting) to film underwater behavior. Instituto Araguaia has already adopted Inia araguaiensis as a flagship species, using it in presentations, the Internet, and media interviews to generate public interest for the protection of the species and its habitat. The additional knowledge and images generated by this project will greatly strengthen our ability to do so.

A camera attached to a helium balloon provides an incredible vantage point to observe the dolphins

A camera attached to a helium balloon provides an incredible vantage point to observe the dolphins