Ecology and conservation of the Chilean dolphin in Southern Chile

Francisco Viddi

Chilean dolphins, along with other cetacean and seabirds, were hunted extensively from 1970 to 1990 for crab bait in the southern king crab and false king crab fisheries in Southern Chile. At present, the main concerns for Chilean dolphin conservation (as well as for other marine mammal species) arise from incidental by-catch in local fisheries and progressive destruction of potential critical habitat. Aquaculture farms (mainly for salmon and mussels) are rapidly expanding in the sheltered bays and fjords of southern Chile, most likely impacting local coastal environments. This project recognizes the need to begin a long-term study on the status and behavioural ecology of Chilean dolphins in three areas known to have high dolphin concentrations along the southern range of this species distribution. Central issues will involve determining Chilean dolphin critical habitat selection and use, as well as identifying conservation threats to this species. By considering the Chilean dolphin as a flag species, we also plan to implement a conservation campaign regarding the marine environment through an educational approach. In this way we intend to increase environmental awareness and local community involvement. The information obtained through this project will be vital for conserving and understanding Chilean dolphins and also recommending the establishment of marine protected areas and conservation actions.