Dolphins on the decline

Dolphins popping out of the water are fun to see, but are now an increasingly rare sight. Freshwater dolphins, popularly known as shusuk, are rapidly disappearing from rivers. Contamination of rivers, siltation and falling fish populations are the main causes of their decline.

Experts describe their decrease in the last two decades as "alarming" and estimate that numbers are down to a few hundred. "Just a few years back, dolphins could be sighted in all major rivers around the country. But now they can be found only in some big rivers, such as the Padma and Karnaphuli and some others in the south," said Ainun Nishat, the country director of the World Conservation Union (IUCN). "Three decades ago there were dolphins in the Buriganga near Dhaka, which you don't see anymore," he added.

In an attempt to save dolphins, two British and American organisations, Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) and Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), joined the IUCN in a feasibility study on the creation of dolphin sanctuaries. They pinpointed over-fishing as a major cause of the decline in numbers. They also reported that dolphins became entangled in bank-to-bank fishing nets, and were hunted for use in traditional healing, for the alleged medicinal properties of their flesh.

In addition, the experts said Indian interference with river flows into Bangladesh had increased water salinity.They were alerted to the salinity problem when they noticed a salt-water dolphin species living in the Sunderbans.

Experts at a recent seminar arranged by the WDCS and WCS said viable dolphin populations existed in the Sundarbans and the Karnaphuli river system. Their recommendations will be formally presented to the government.Meanwhile, the IUCN has built watch-towers in Manikganj and Madaripur and is encouraging local people to observe and appreciate dolphins.(Pinaki Roy, 2004)

Protecting dolphins

sunderbans (red)A move is underway to determine dolphin population in the waters around the Sunderbans. The programme has been undertaken by wildlife protection authorities of he country in the context of surmises that the number of dolphins in this area is declining. Environmentalists have expressed concern about decimation, at least in our region, of this curious fish-like mammal.

Considering that many species of land and seas are fast vanishing, it will not be surprising if dolphins are found to be an endangered species. But this will not justify inaction for its protection. A prime cause of decline of wild life is poaching which perhaps is not applicable in the case of dolphins. Cases of poaching of dolphins have not been reported as far as our countries are concerned, although in some countries dolphins are still poached along with their cousins, the whales. Dolphins have no natural predators. So, the cause of the presumably dwindling number of dolphins must be found elsewhere. For example, apart from poaching, pollution, oil slick, human activity. The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS), an international conservation body, has called for greater awareness about the danger to whales and dolphins.

However, as far as this danger is concerned, some wealthy countries need to be more cognisant. Dolphins are an interesting aquatic animal in many ways. They are said to be very intelligent, are very receptive to training and can be easily used in aquarium shows. They are also said to love the company of man and instances have been recorded where they have proved to be helpful to shipwrecked victims. Though a marine animal, they live mostly in near-shore waters, bays and river mouths. Another interesting aspect of this animal is that they, like bats, locate their prey by using echolocation.

Although we are living in proximity to the dolphins, we know very little about them and we have not showed much interest in the matter. If we could build up a marine aquarium with a few dolphins, it would be a fun and delight for visitors while it would help the cause of conservation. Facilitating breeding in captivity is the prescribed method of protecting endangered species. Also, all animals live longer in captivity (Independent, August 18, 2005).

Dolphins in Danger - June 4, 2010

Fishermen are killing endangered Gangetic River Dolphins on a vast swath of the rivers Padma and Jamuna, and using their oil to catch fish.

The trade has become so lucrative that some fishermen have switched from fishing to catching dolphins. Each kilogramme of oil extracted from dolphins sells for Tk 400 to Tk 500. The fat from a healthy dolphin can produce 4 to 5 kg of oil.

Killing dolphins found at least at thirty places in the Padma and Jamuna

"We found groups killing dolphins at least at thirty places in the Padma and Jamuna," said Dr SMA Rashid, a wildlife expert who is now conducting a survey on Gharial, a crocodile species, now thought to be extinct in Bangladesh.

The Padma has reached a greater depth at Yusufpur, at the mouth of the Baral river in Godagari. Because of this feature of the waterways, fish are abundant at these points, and so dolphins also visit these places for food. "The fishermen have found a new way of maximising their catch. They kill the dolphins, extract oil, and use the oil to attract more fish," said Rashid. They pour dolphin oil in the water and then lay nets around that. The strong smell of the oil attracts fish to the net.

The same practice is going on in the Jamuna. At Lalsamar Char and Saper Char in Chilmari, and at Roumari, killing dolphin is a booming business.

"The sad part is that nobody even bothers to stop the killing
, even though the Gangetic Dolphins are an endangered species according to IUCN's Red Book," said Rashid, who runs an organisation named the Centre for Advanced Research in Natural Resources and Management (Carinam). "More dolphins are getting killed by fishermen now, than by river pollution," Rashid said. Killing dolphins is a crime punishable with imprisonment under the wildlife act. "Unless we act fast, dolphins will be lost forever from our rivers."

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