About Species Location Results Taking Part Publications

About the Project


The Project was formed in 1993 when Drs Vera da Silva and Tony Martin made the decision to begin a long-term study of river dolphins in Brazil, and chose the newly-formed Mamirauá Reserve for its location. Field activities commenced in January 1994 with the marking of nine botos, of which seven are still regularly seen more than 12 years later. Annual marking trips successively increased the number of recognisable animals to nearly 400 by November 2005, by which time more than half of all botos seen in the reserve were known individually. This pool of recognisable dolphins is at the core of our work, allowing us to gather information about the lives of these animals through unobtrusive observation. The idea is piece together how a population ‘works’ by learning about the lives of individuals. We need to know who does what, with whom, when and where they do it, and why. In many ways it’s like watching a soap on TV, though these lives are real and far more interesting!



The research carried out under Projeto Boto is broad based in recognition of the fact that no aspect of the biology of either dolphin has been adequately studied. Our principal interests are in the fields of:

  • population characteristics such as reproductive and mortality rates
  • density and abundance
  • growth and development
  • social behaviour
  • movements
  • biochemistry of blood and milk
  • diet
  • relationship with Man, including interactions with fisheries

In the early years, data collection was limited to periods when we could borrow a boat and spend a week or two on the water in between other professional commitments. The situation improved in 1997 with the recruitment of our first student and intern, and then dramatically in the year 2000 when we took delivery of our purpose-built floating laboratory/accommodation known as ‘Flutuante Boto Vermelho’ or ‘Red Dolphin Raft’. Now, and for almost a decade, Projeto Boto has at least one observation team on the water for over 300 days a year. In 2005 we took notes on 2,380 groups containing 11,747 animals, and generated 4,237 observations of individually-known dolphins. With our own boats, 3-5 people permanently in the field, and a comfortable place to call home, we have come a long way.

The first few years were dedicated to getting the Project up-and-running, overcoming bureaucratic and logistical hurdles while learning how to study animals that were out of sight most of the time and only gave brief glimpses when they did come to the surface. But science is not science unless its results are made available to scrutiny and published, so all along we have sought to analyse and write-up our data as fast as possible. Elsewhere on this website is a list of our publications, and we expect this stream of information to gain pace over the next few years.

In hand with publication of results, the Project Leaders disseminate information through international organisations (IUCN, Society for Marine Mammalogy, International Whaling Commission, Latin American Society of marine mammal specialists) and through provision of advice to decision-making authorities at local, national and international level.

Long-term studies in remote field locations are expensive to run. Over the years, Projeto Boto has owed its existence to many generous sponsors and supporters, to whom we are most grateful; among them:

  • Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (Brazil)
  • Darwin Initiative
  • Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia (Brazil)
  • Mamirauá Institute
  • National Geographic Society
  • Natural Environment Research Council (UK)
  • New York Zoological Society
  • Overseas Development Administration (UK)
  • Rainforest Alliance
  • World Conservation International
  • Worldwide Fund for Nature


Project leaders

Since its inception, Projeto Boto has been jointly led by Drs Vera da Silva and Anthony Martin. Their responsibilities include guiding the science and policy, recruiting interns and volunteers, dealing with permits, obtaining and managing finance, representing the Project at conferences and meetings, and maintaining the fieldwork facilities.


Vera is based at the National Institute of Amazonian Research (INPA) in Manaus, Brazil, where she is Head of the Aquatic Mammals section. Besides her work on dolphins, Vera also oversees research on Amazonian manatees, and is responsible for INPA’s large captive population of manatees, most of which were rescued as orphaned calves. Vera makes at least six trips per year to Mamirauá, and is responsible for organising most of the local logistical and personnel aspects of the Project.


Tony Martin

Tony now works at the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge, UK, having been a scientist with the Sea Mammal Research Unit for many years. He has three periods of fieldwork per year in the Amazon, and normally spends around two months in the Antarctic, where his main interests are in whales, seals, petrels and ducks. Tony has been a member of the International Whaling Commission’s Scientific Committee since 1978, and chaired its work on small cetaceans for five years.


© Projeto Boto 2006