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Vanishing Act- Is it too late for the Irrawaddy dolphin?

Vanishing Act- Is it too late for the Irrawaddy dolphin?

Postby Cetacea » 7/9/08

Battle to save Cambodian dolphin

Sun Mao leans forward in the boat, shades his eyes with his hand, and squints across the wide expanse of the Mekong River where it twists through the town of Kratie.

He is looking for one of the world's rarest mammals - the Mekong Irrawaddy dolphin.

Older people in this part of northern Cambodia talk of how they used to take the dolphins for granted.

Little effort was needed to see them in their dozens. Now, scientists say, there are less than 100 remaining.

National heritage

With a practised eye, Sun Mao spots a group of five dolphins, collectively known as a pod.

They briefly break the surface as they come up for air - grey-brown, bullet-headed and exhaling with an old man's rasp.

It is an awe-inspiring sight, but nothing new to Sun Mao."This is the last place for these dolphins in the world," he says over the clatter of the boat's outboard engine.

"We have to conserve and keep them alive in this river for our next generation."

CRDT has tried to educate the local human population about what they can do.

A government-enforced ban on the use of gill nets - nets set vertically in the water so that fish swim into them and are entangled in the mesh - has cut down the number of dolphins accidentally caught by fishermen.

Instead, CRDT has helped locals to reduce their reliance on fishing by offering alternatives such as poultry farming.

Villagers on Pdao Island, just outside Kratie, greet Sun Mao as an old friend as he clambers up the muddy riverbank.

Tourist influx

They happily show off their CRDT-sponsored chickens, water-pumps and fish ponds, and declare themselves delighted to be part of the dolphin preservation efforts.

It would be a heart-warming tale, if only the statistics were not so brutally depressing.

A scientific survey taken three years ago estimated the dolphin population at 127. The latest study by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) puts the figure at 71.

It comes as a devastating blow after all the work that local and international organisations have put in.

As well as banning the use of gill nets, the government has established a network of river guards to patrol the dolphin habitats.

While CRDT has been working with the local human population, WWF scientists have been looking into ways of protecting the dolphins.

Everyone was hoping that the dolphin population would at least stabilise, if not flourish.

Payback would come in the form of an influx of tourists to see the pods at play and bring much-needed revenue to the local economy.


That dream recedes as each dead dolphin washes up on the banks of the Mekong.

Most worryingly, most of the recent casualties have been calves. Without the babies, there is no future for the species.

"There are theories that the immune systems of the dolphins have been compromised by stress," says Richard Zanre, dolphin programme manager for WWF.

"The river environment has been encroached upon by new developments. There is also the problem of contaminants in the river."

The answers need to be found quickly. As it stands, WWF still classifies the remaining population as "sustainable".

If the numbers fall much further, however, there will no longer be enough diversity for the dolphins to breed successfully.

That would spell the end for this unique species.

"There is about as much educational benefit to be gained in studying dolphins in captivity as there would be studying mankind by observing prisoners held in solitary confinement" - Jacques Cousteau

We're not unique, just at one end of the spectrum.
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Re: Vanishing Act- Is it too late for the Irrawaddy dolphin?

Postby rachx18 » 9/27/08

This is awful, and also the Yangtze river dolphin was said to be extinct.

"Wuhan, 13 December 2006 – The Baiji Yangtze Dolphin is with all probability extinct. On Wednesday, in the city of Wuhan in central China, a search expedition, under the direction of the Institute for Hydrobiology Wuhan and the Swiss-based baiji.org Foundation, drew to a finish without any results. During the six-week expedition scientists from six nations desperately searched the Yangtze in vain.

The fate of the delicate dolphin is attributed to the destruction of their habitat, illegal fishing and collisions with ships. Regarded in China as the "goddess of the Yangtze", the 20 million year old river dolphin was one of the world's oldest species. The Baiji is the first large mammal brought to extinction as a result of human destruction to their natural habitat and ressources.

In the beginning of the 1980s the Yangtze still had around 400 Baiji cavorting in its waters. However, the river dolphin became a victim of China’s rapidly growing economy. A 1997 survey still showed 13 confirmed sightings. The last confirmed sighting of a Baiji was in September 2004. QiQi, a dolphin male, who was rescued in 1980, died in July 2002 at the Institute of Hydrobiology in Wuhan."

It is so sad how many species are becoming extinct. I wish I could go around and pick up all the trash and stop all the fishing boats. These marine mammal animal extincion needs to be adressed more, and something more has to be done.

:dolphin2: Rachel
"Till my soul is full of longing
for the secret of the sea,
and the heart of the great ocean
sends a thrilling pulse through me."
-- H.W. Longfellow
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