The AMMA Project

AMMA stands for Aves y Mamíferos Marinos Australes (southern marine mammals and birds). AMA also means, in the Yahgan language of southernmost Tierra del Fuego, "food: fur seals, dolphins and large terrestrial animals" (Bridges, T. 1933), which seems most appropriate for our study.
The AMMA Project began in 1976 with a long-term study of the marine mammals, especially small cetaceans, and birds of southernmost South America. It is directed by Dr. R. Natalie P. Goodall, with activities concentrated mainly in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina.

We study the basic biology of marine mammals, and secondly, birds, through the examination of dead animals on the beach (strandings or incidental captures in fishing nets) and the occasional observation of live animals.

When these studies began, only nine species of smaller cetaceans were known for this area, as well as seven of whales and four of pinnipeds (seals and sea lions). We have since registered 22 species of the smaller cetaceans and eight of pinnipeds, some of them among the world's rarest and least known species (see Marine Mammals of Tierra del Fuego). We also find uncommon species of marine birds dead on the coasts.
We carry out periodic beach surveys to search for dead animals. We take photographs, data on pigmentation, external measurements; we examine and take samples of organs, parasites, stomach contents, pathology and samples for DNA and contaminants. Then we collect the complete skeleton. 

The specimens are stored in the Bone House at Estancia Harberton until they can be cleaned, numbered and stored in the Museo Acatushœn. Several scientific projects involving the skeletal collections are under way at present. 

Specially prepared sighting forms are given to ships navigating this area. If interested persons take careful data of animals seen at sea, we gradually gather abundant information about their habitats, migrations, group size, presence of juveniles and behavior.

This research has been financed by grants within Argentina and other countries, but especially by grants from the Committee for Research and Exploration (CRE) of the National Geographic Society, and personal funds of the director, whose scientific work is ad-honorem.

Research Team

R. Natalie P. Goodall, biologist
Sheryl V. Macnie, veterinarian
Claudia C. Boy , biologist.

Collaborators (Argentina)
Dr. Adrián C. M. Schiavini, CADIC, Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego..
Luis G. Benegas, Museo de la Ciudad "Virginia Chonquintel", Río Grande, Tierra del Fuego.
Dr. Enrique Crespo (and his team), Centro Nacional Patagónico (CENPAT), Puerto Madryn, Chubut.

Other Countries
Researchers and institutions in several countries cooperate in studies and/or publications: USA, Great Britain, Chile, Peru, Japan, New Zealand, South Africa.

Volunteers (Human Resources)
Student work-study interns help with the program each summer at the Museo Acatushún, especially in the time-consuming task of cleaning bones. In this way they acquire experience in field work and the biology and anatomy of these animals. An important part of their work is taking a turn as museum guides. 

• Goodall Laboratory in Ushuaia
• Field camp at Estancia San Martín on Bahía San Sebastián
• Acatushún Museum and Laboratory at Estancia Harberton
• Bone House associated with the Museum


• 25 years of research on the beaches of Tierra del Fuego.
• Several studies in Santa Cruz, Argentina and Tierra del Fuego, Chile.
• A data base on the number and species of marine mammals and birds stranded per year.

Varamiento de cachalotes en Bahía San Sebastián • Data base on the relation between artesanal shore-based fishing and the mortality of dolphins on the coasts of Tierra del Fuego.
• Studies of mass strandings of Risso's dolphins (Grampus griseus), sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus), pilot whale (Globicephala melas) and false killer whale (Pseudorca crassidens).
• A large quantity of opportunistic sightings, from many sources.
• Advances in techniques of cleaning, preparing and storing skeletons.
• Studies in progress in cooperation with other institutions on taxonomy, pathology, DNA, parasites, taphonomy, food habits, contamination and more.

• The Ushuaia laboratory houses a collection of some 7000 plants of Tierra del Fuego.
• The Acatushún Museum houses a collection of over 4000 specimens, some 2200 of mammals and 2000 of birds.
• Both laboratories have an ample collection of publications on the species of southern South America.

Realizando mediciones de una tonina overa Publications
• Some 60 works in scientific journals, chapters in books.
• Major revisions of certain species: Commerson's dolphin (Cephalorhynchus commersonii), spectacled porpoise (Phocoena dioptrica), Peale's dolphin (Lagenorhynchus australis) and hourglass dolphin (L. cruciger). 
• 70 abstracts in scientific meetings or congresses.
• Some 60 works presented in scientific meetings.
• Several publications in preparation.
For the general public
• Many conferences on the flora and fauna of Tierra del Fuego.
• Talks on cetaceans in museums, schools, tourist ships and meetings.
• Advisory status on scientific projects.
• Maps and other items characterizing the flora and fauna of the area.
cráneos de delfines piloto
Environmental studies

AMMA has produced some 20 environmental studies of the marina mammals and birds of the coasts for oil companies (principally Total Austral S.A), local agencies, NGOs, and several studies on coastal contamination for the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission.

Our Sponsors


Committee for Research and Exploration
National Geographic Society




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Copyright © 2001 Fundación R. Natalie P. Goodall
Last modification: 17/07/03