The vulnerable Amazon river dolphin, one of the few river dolphins in the world, runs a great risk of extinction because of its use as bait to catch fish of very little commercial value.

Sounding the alarm is biologist Sannie Brum, researcher of the Piagacu Institute, or Ipi, who studied the habits of 35 fishing communities on the Purus River in the northwestern Brazilian state of Amazonas.

According to her study, inhabitants of the region kill annually about 144 pink Amazon river dolphins (Inia geoffrensis), more than any limit that could guarantee their survival, to use them as bait to catch the piracatinga (Calophysus macropterus), a species of carrion-eating catfish commonly known as the water vulture.

According to the researcher, since the piracatinga feeds on dead, decomposing fish, the fishermen use pieces of very fatty fish, even alligators, as bait to catch them.

Fishermen prefer to use dolphin as bait, however, because the flesh has more fat and a strong, characteristic odor that attracts the piracatinga, and since catching dolphins is banned, they cannot be sold on the market, the biologist said.

Brum's study was financed by the Pharmaceutic Nature Protection Foundation.

Worst of all, according to the scientist, is that the dolphins are being exterminated for no better reason than to catch fish that are sold for 80 centavos per kilo ($0.15 a pound) and that are chiefly marketed in Colombia under other names.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature, or IUCN, has not yet classified the Amazon river dolphin as endangered, since there is "not enough information" about the species, but Brazilian authorities classify it as "vulnerable." EFE