What is taxonomy?
La Plata dolphins are also called the franciscana river-dolphin. They are extremely shy and evasive by nature. Human knowledge of them is surrounded by superstition as there are so few facts known about them. The La Plata dolphin and other river-dolphins are, in general, smaller and less well-known than most other dolphins.
- La Plata dolphins have the longest beak-to-body ratio of any dolphin.
- La Plata dolphins are limited in their distribution to temperate and coastal waters of eastern South America.
- La Plata dolphins are known to fishermen as "the white ghost" because their bodies are light in color and because they flit away when they see humans.
- The La Plata dolphin and other river-dolphins are considered rather primitive by comparison to other cetaceans with their long beaks, interlocking conical teeth, and their poor eyesight
What should I know about La Plata dolphins?
- Where do La Plata dolphins live?
- How many La Plata dolphins are there?
- How can I identify a La Plata dolphin?
- How well can a La Plata dolphin see or hear?
- What do La Plata dolphins eat?
- How do La Plata dolphins have their young?
- How long do La Plata dolphins live? How do they die?
- Where can I find more information about La Plata dolphins?
La Plata dolphins are exclusively marine however they "earned" the title of river-dolphin because they inhabit the salt-water estuary of the La Plata River. They inhabit shallow waters in South America from the coast of the Atlantic Ocean to the Valdes Peninsula and from the La Plata River delta of Argentina to the Tropic of Capricorn near Rio de Janeiro of Brazil. A sighting of a La Plata is very special because these dolphins reside in isolated areas and are rarely seen by humans.
The La Plata dolphin population is unknown.
La Plata dolphins are considered extremely primitive marine mammals. They have disproportionately small heads, pronounced melons, short bodies, and long slender beaks. They are light colored, either mostly white or pale brown on top converging into lighter brown on their bellies. La Plata females are slightly larger (5.5 feet or 1.7 meters) than the males (5 feet or 1.5 meters). All La Plata dolphins have 50 or more sharp teeth and are highly adapted to their fresh water environment with their large beaks and spatulate flippers.
La Plata dolphins have very poor vision. Not much is known about their hearing. La Plata dolphins also have very sensitive echolocation which allows them to navigate in turbulent and murky river waters.
La Plata dolphins are primarily bottom feeders and consume a wide variety of fish, as well as shrimp, squid, and octopus.
La Plata dolphins are capable of reproducing when males are 4.5 feet (1.37 meters) long and females are 4.6 feet (1.4 meters) long. La Plata dolphin calves are born 2.7 feet (0.8 meters) long after a 12.5 month gestation period, usually from October to January. La Platas nurse for nine months and tend to give birth every two years.
La Plata dolphins are thought to live about 20 years. La Plata dolphins were often killed accidentally in nearshore shark gillnets through the late 1960s. This mortality decreased markedly as the shark fishery moved progressively offshore.Where can I find more information about La Plata dolphins?
Books and the world wide web are excellent places to learn more about marine mammals.
- Leatherwood, Stephen. Reeves, Randall R. Foster, Larry. The Sierra Handbook of Whales and Dolphins. Sierra Club, San Francisco, CA. 1983.
- Leatherwood, Stephen. Reeves, Randall R. Perrin, William F. Evans, William E. Whales, Dolphins, and Porpoises of the Eastern North Pacific and Adjacent Arctic waters; A Guide to their Identification. Dover Publications, Inc., New York, NY. 1988.
- Wynne, Kate. Folkens, Pieter. Guide to Marine Mammals of Alaska. Alaska Sea Grant Program. University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, AK. 1992.
World Wide Web
- The Whale Center of New England. http://www.whalecenter.org.
- The Whale Museum at Friday Harbor, Washington. http://www.whale-museum.org/.
There are many more sources to learn about cetaceans. Check with NMML's online library or your local librarian for her or his recommendations.
This portion of the NMML website is intended for a student audience and their educators.
Information within the education website should not be cited in scientific journals or publications.