pp 1–16 | Cite as

Mercury in Populations of River Dolphins of the Amazon and Orinoco Basins

  • F. Mosquera-GuerraEmail author
  • F. Trujillo
  • D. Parks
  • M. Oliveira-da-Costa
  • P. A. Van Damme
  • A. Echeverría
  • N. Franco
  • J. D. Carvajal-Castro
  • H. Mantilla-Meluk
  • M. Marmontel
  • D. Armenteras-Pascual
Original Contribution


In the Amazon and Orinoco basins, mercury has been released from artisanal and industrial gold mining since the Colonial time, as well as a result of deforestation and burning of primary forest, that release natural deposits of methyl mercury, affecting the local aquatic vertebrate fauna. This study reports the presence of mercury in river dolphins’ genera Inia and Sotalia. Mercury concentrations were analysed in muscle tissue samples collected from 46 individuals at the Arauca and Orinoco Rivers (Colombia), the Amazon River (Colombia), a tributary of the Itenez River (Bolivia) and from the Tapajos River (Brazil). Ranges of total mercury (Hg) concentration in muscle tissue of the four different taxa sampled were: I. geoffrensis humboldtiana 0.003–3.99 mg kg−1 ww (n = 21, Me = 0.4), I. g. geoffrensis 0.1–2.6 mg kg−1 ww (n = 15, Me = 0.55), I. boliviensis 0.03–0.4 mg kg−1 ww (n = 8, Me = 0.1) and S. fluviatilis 0.1–0.87 mg kg−1 ww (n = 2, Me = 0.5). The highest Hg concentration in our study was obtained at the Orinoco basin, recorded from a juvenile male of I. g. humboldtiana (3.99 mg kg−1 ww). At the Amazon basin, higher concentrations of mercury were recorded in the Tapajos River (Brazil) from an adult male of I. g. geoffrensis (2.6 mg kg−1 ww) and the Amazon River from an adult female of S. fluviatilis (0.87 mg kg−1 ww). Our data support the presence of total Hg in river dolphins distributed across the evaluated basins, evidencing the role of these cetaceans as sentinel species and bioindicators of the presence of this heavy metal in natural aquatic environments.


Amazon Bioindication Gold mining Mercury contamination Orinoco River dolphins 



This research was conducted as part of the South America River Dolphins Conservation Program, sponsored by the Whitley Fund for Nature, the Foundation Segré, and Colciencias (National Doctorate Scholarship 785). This program is part of the strategic plan of the South American River Dolphins Initiative (SARDI), supported by WWF in Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia. Special gratitude to S. Usma, D. Amorocho, D. Willems, K. Berg, L. Sainz, J. Rivas, J. L. Mena, J. Surkin, and M. Wulms from the WWF network. The authors would also like to express their gratitude to the fishing communities and the local and national authorities who collected stranded animals and supported the capture of river dolphins in the framework of the satellite tracking program of river dolphins in the Amazon and Orinoco River basins.


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Copyright information

© EcoHealth Alliance 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • F. Mosquera-Guerra
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • F. Trujillo
    • 1
  • D. Parks
    • 3
  • M. Oliveira-da-Costa
    • 4
  • P. A. Van Damme
    • 5
  • A. Echeverría
    • 5
  • N. Franco
    • 1
  • J. D. Carvajal-Castro
    • 6
  • H. Mantilla-Meluk
    • 7
  • M. Marmontel
    • 8
  • D. Armenteras-Pascual
    • 2
  1. 1.Fundación OmachaBogotáColombia
  2. 2.Grupo de Ecología del Paisaje y Modelación de Ecosistemas-ECOLMOD, Departamento de Biología, Facultad de CienciasUniversidad Nacional de ColombiaBogotáColombia
  3. 3.Whitley Fund for NatureLondonUK
  4. 4.WWF-BrasilBrasíliaBrazil
  5. 5.FaunaguaCochabambaBolivia
  6. 6.Instituto de Investigación de Recursos Biológicos Alexander von HumboldtBogotáColombia
  7. 7.Programa de BiologíaUniversidad del QuindíoArmeniaColombia
  8. 8.Instituto Mamirauá de Desenvolvimento SustentávelTeféBrazil

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