Ocean Community News

The Whitley Awards: Building Bridges to Encourage Coexistence with Lahille’s Bottlenose Dolphin in Brazil

Brazilian conservationist, Pedro Fruet, has received a prestigious Whitley Award worth £40,000 GBP.

Pedro grew up surfing waves alongside the Lahille’s bottlenose dolphin, also known for collaboratively catching mullet with artisanal fishers. He will use his Whitley Award to reduce bycatch in one of Brazil’s busiest fishing grounds, as well as promote coexistence between communities and this social cetacean.

TeamRespondingDolphinUNIQUE DOLPHINS

The Patos Lagoon Estuary and surrounding coastal waters are home to the largest numbers of Lahille’s bottlenose dolphins, which were recently declared a distinct group. Currently, the number of dolphins accidentally caught and killed in fishing gear is unsustainable for a subspecies with fewer than 600 individuals left.


A no-take zone was created in 2012 but the lack of local consultation, and ever-increasing dependence on fishing for income, has failed to reduce bycatch.


Founder of Kaosa, a not-for-profit environmental organisation, Pedro is building bridges between communities, scientists, and authorities. He will train local people in participatory management of the no-take zone and launch a citizen science app to engage the wider public.

The Whitley Awards are presented annually to individuals from the Global South by UK-based charity the Whitley Fund for Nature. Pedro is one of six conservationists to be recognised in 2021 for their commitment to conserving some of the planet’s most endangered species and spectacular natural habitats. During a virtual celebration on Wednesday 12th May, they received messages of support from charity Patron HRH The Princess Royal and Trustee, Sir David Attenborough.

Sir David Attenborough, WFN Trustee, said: “Whitley Award winners are local environmental heroes, harnessing the best available science and leading projects with passion. I admire their courage, their commitment, and their ability to affect change. There are few jobs more important.”

Pedro first learnt of these dolphins’ complex and fascinating social lives while at the Federal University of Rio Grande. A long-term study, started in the 1970s, allows Pedro to track individuals from birth to old age. He has found that this intelligent species interacts with artisanal fishers to feed yet avoids developing long-term bonds.

Habitat degradation and overfishing in the 1980s and 90s has led to a dramatic decline in dolphin numbers. Many become accidentally entangled in fishing nets and killed.

Due to this severe impact on the dolphin population, the Brazilian Government banned gillnet fishing around Patos Lagoon estuary in 2012. However, a lack of local consultation and insufficient enforcement is failing to reduce bycatch; over the last 10 years it has been responsible for 40% of dolphin mortality in the area.

Pedro and his team will build relationships with artisanal fishers and educate the community about legal fishing areas to avoid both penalties for them and further damage to the environment. The aim is to provide them with a platform to share their opinions, build their awareness of conservation and help them become involved in decision-making. Pedro will also train local people to conduct citizen surveillance of the protected waters to increase the effectiveness of the ban.

Whitley Award winner, Pedro Fruet, said: “From spending my childhood summers surfing at Cassino beach, I was able to get up-close to the friendly Lahille’s bottlenose dolphins. They are truly wonderful creatures and have the ability to show us that it is possible for humans and wildlife to enjoy the world together. I believe that by promoting them as a flagship species we can protect the entire ecosystem and improve the livelihoods of coastal communities.

“It’s an honour to be recognised by Whitley Fund for Nature. The funding will allow us to expand our efforts and educate more people into becoming protectors of their local habitats and its abundant wildlife.”

Edward Whitley, Founder of the Whitley Fund for Nature, said: “Pedro’s vital work shows us that successful conservation is about the connection between people and our natural world. As a 2021 Whitley Award winner, Pedro is not only protecting a newly discovered dolphin group but is helping artisanal fishers to operate more sustainably so this marine ecosystem may continue providing livelihoods and supporting ocean life for generations to come.”

This year’s Whitley Gold Award, worth £100,000 GBP, honours Kenyan conservationist Paula Kahumbu for her outstanding work securing justice for wildlife and citizens. Paula is pioneering a new approach, that protects the country’s wildlife and habitats while recognising Kenyans’ legitimate aspirations for economic development. CEO of WildlifeDirect, her Whitley Gold Award will enable her to expand her efforts, empowering concerned citizens through the first ever Environmental Justice Desk, educating field rangers in the collection of evidence admissible in court, and defending iconic habitats from unchecked development by powerful interest groups that override environmental concerns with impunity. Paula will foster a culture of public participation in environmental decisions and promote African leadership of wildlife conservation across the continent.

Whitley Gold Award winner, Paula Kahumbu, said: “I want to see a global shift in the narrative where Africans are the storytellers about African wildlife and assume the lead in efforts to protect it”.

Click here to find out more.

The 2021 Whitley Award winners are:

  • Lucy Kemp, South Africa: A community-based approach to conserve the Southern Ground-hornbill
  • Nuklu Phom, India: Establishing a Biodiversity Peace Corridor in Nagaland
  • Iroro Tanshi, Nigeria: Bats from the brink – participatory action to save the short-tailed roundleaf bat
  • Kini Roesler, Argentina: Hooded Grebe – guardian of the Patagonian steppe
  • Sammy Safari, Kenya: Transforming the future of sea turtles through coastal stewardship
  • Pedro Fruet, Brazil: Building bridges to encourage coexistence with the Lahille’s bottlenose dolphin

The 2021 Whitley Gold Award winner is:

  • Paula Kahumbu, Kenya: Justice for people and wildlife

ECO Magazine is a marine science publication committed to bringing scientists and professionals the latest ground-breaking research, industry news, and job opportunities from around the world.


8502 SW Kansas Ave
Stuart, FL 34997


Newsletter Signup

Please type your full name.

Please type your full name.

Invalid email address.

All emails include an unsubscribe link. You may opt-out at any time. Clicking subscribe confirms your acceptance of our privacy policy.