Pontoporia blainvillei
Other names: 
  • La Plata river dolphin
Maximum length: 
  • Male: 1.6m
  • Female: 1.8m
  • Calf: 0.7m
Maximum weight: 
  • Male: Unknown
  • Female: 53 kg
  • Calf: Unknown
  • Fish (sciaenids, engraulids, gadids and carangids)
  • Squid
  • Shrimp
Estimated population: 
IUCN Listing: 
CITES Appendix: 
CMS Appendix: 

The franciscana is one of the smallest cetaceans, but it has the longest beak relative to body size of any dolphin – almost 15% of its total body length. While it is very similar in appearance to river dolphins and can be found in several estuaries throughout its range, it is not a true river dolphin and lives predominantly in shallow salt water and is often seen very close to shore. Although morphological studies suggest two distinct forms based on size (those in the north are found to be larger than those in the south), the species is currently divided into three genetically distinct populations, managed as four separate stocks or 'Franciscana Management Areas'.


The franciscana is a slender dolphin with a very long, thin beak and a steep, rounded forehead. It has small eyes that are well developed. The backswept dorsal fin is low and rounded with a broad base whilst the large broad flippers are spatulate with undulating trailing edges, consistent with the presence of 'finger-bones'. The flukes are extremely broad, up to 1/3 the length of the body. The body is brownish-grey on top with a slightly darker cape, whilst the belly and lower sides are a paler yellowish-grey. The franciscana may be confused with the tucuxi, but it has a longer beak and a more rounded dorsal fin and should be easily discernible.


The franciscana is inconspicuous and difficult to spot in the wild as they generally avoid boats. It is a smooth, sluggish swimmer, rarely splashing or rolling and certainly not acrobatic. When breathing, the beak may break the surface at a very shallow angle and they tend to show very little of themselves before disappearing back under the water again. They are generally solitary animals but may be found in groups of up to 15. Found in turbid waters less than 30m deep, they are preyed upon by large sharks and killer whales, while they themselves feed on shallow-water fish, squid and crustaceans at or near the sea floor.


The range of the franciscana extends from the coastal waters of Southeast Brazil in the north to central Argentina in the south. This species has been impacted by fisheries in a variety of ways as not only is the major threat to the franciscana incidental entanglement in gillnet fisheries but the fisheries themselves target many of their prey species, and by trawling the benthos these same fisheries destroy vital habitat. On its own, fisheries-induced mortality is thought to be unsustainable and therefore the cumulative impacts are an even more serious concern. There is no total abundance estimate available for this species and the IUCN currently lists this species as Vulnerable.

Distribution map: