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2021 Whitley Award
Pedro Fruet Brazil Coastal and Marine
Building bridges to encourage coexistence with the Lahille’s bottlenose dolphin

Pedro grew up surfing the waves with Lahille’s bottlenose dolphins, also known for collaboratively catching mullet with artisanal fishers. Inspired by their coexistence, Pedro will reduce bycatch, raise awareness of this social species and strengthen the community’s connection to their marine environment.


The Lahille’s bottlenose dolphin is an endemic, small, coastal cetacean of the western South Atlantic found in two isolated populations in Argentina and southern Brazil-Uruguay. The Patos Lagoon Estuary, and adjacent coastal waters home to this species, are also considered one of the most productive fishing grounds in Brazil, resulting in high anthropogenic disturbances to marine wildlife. Over the last decade an average of 6 dolphins per year have died due to fishing – an unsustainable rate for a subspecies with fewer than 600 individuals remaining.

Patos Lagoon Estuary in Brazil


Bycatch – whereby non-target species are accidentally caught and perish – is responsible for at least 40% of dolphin mortalities in the area. Gillnet fisheries were banned in 2014 with the creation of a new no-take zone. Yet with people still dependent on fishing for their livelihoods, the lack of local consultation and insufficient enforcement has failed to reduce accidental entanglement. This will only worsen with economic hardships caused by COVID-19 and the current government’s aversion to addressing environmental crises.

Pedro Fruet's team responding to dolphin mortality


In 2007 Pedro founded the NGO Kaosa to promote conservation, using this charismatic cetacean as a flagship species for healthy oceans. Pedro will encourage coexistence by documenting fishers’ perceptions and identifying opportunities for resolution; bridging the gap between communities, scientists and authorities to improve the effectiveness of the no-take zone. He will introduce participatory management, train local inspectors to deter illegal fishing and develop a communications strategy for wider public engagement.

Lahille's bottlenose dolphins swim alongside local fishers

Pedro and his team will:

  • Curb dolphin bycatch around Patos Lagoon Estuary to reduce their mortality by 40% over 5 years.
  • Investigate the ecological connectivity between populations of Lahille’s bottlenose dolphins to inform future conservation action.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of Patos Lagoon Estuary’s no-take zone and improve fisher compliance, balancing the needs of wildlife with people through participatory management.
  • Train 50 champions to disseminate information and develop a citizen science app to raise public awareness.

Top facts:

  • These dolphins have developed a unique foraging strategy, cooperating with artisanal fishers to catch mullet!
  • Lahille’s bottlenose (Tursiops truncatus gephyreus) has only recently been classified as a distinct subspecies of dolphin.
  • The IUCN have identified the Lahille’s bottlenose dolphin as a conservation priority due to its low abundance, imminence of decline, and potential for remedial action.

“By protecting Lahille’s bottlenose dolphins, we can protect the entire ecosystem and improve the livelihoods of coastal communities.” Pedro Fruet