Friday, April 10, 2009

Exciting Discovery In Bangladesh

Photo courtesy Wildlife Conservation Society.

Lately it seems the only news about the environment seems to be bad news. I am delighted to say that I have a delightful piece about a dolphin thought to be on the brink of extinction. That dolphin is the Irrawaddy dolphin. A previously unknown massive population has been discovered in Bangladesh.

Read on, dolphin lovers!

Previous to this discovery, the largest known population of the Irrawaddy dolphin was only in the hundred. Thanks to the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) a massive population of approximately 6,000 individuals has been discovered living in the freshwater areas of the Sundarbans mangrove forest.

“This discovery gives us great hope that there is a future for Irrawaddy dolphins,” said Dr. Brian Smith, the study’s lead author. “Bangladesh clearly serves as an important sanctuary for Irrawaddy dolphins, and conservation in this region should be a top priority.”

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species lists Irrawaddy dolphins as “Vulnerable” in Bangladesh and India; but, “Critically Endangered” in Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, and Thailand. The current total population of dolphins is unknown (but, it’s better off by 6,000 now!).

One of the reasons the Irrawaddy dolphin is so endangered is that they live closer to the shore than their ocean-dwelling cousins falling victim to the gill nets and dragnets of the fishermen. The dolphins today also face extinction from gold mining, blast fishing, electrofishing and bottom-set crab nets. They were also actively sought for their oil.

This is a far cry from the relationship the dolphins used to have with the traditional fishermen of India. Fishermen recall the times of co-operative fishing with the dolphins when they would call out to the dolphins to drive fish into their nets. Using acoustic signals, Irrawaddy dolphins in the upper reaches of the Ayeyawady River in Myanmar, drive fish towards waiting fishermen using cast nets. In return, the dolphins receive the fishermen’s by-catch as their share of the bounty.

From Wikipedia:

Historically, Irrawaddy River fishermen claimed that particular dolphins were associated with individual fishing villages and chased fish into their nets. An 1879 report indicates that legal claims were frequently brought into native courts by fishermen to recover a share of the fish from the nets of a rival fisherman which the plaintiff’s dolphin was claimed to have helped fill.

Other threats to the Irrawaddy dolphin include declining freshwater due to human use and climate change, which is threatening to raise the sea-level and inundate local freshwater systems. The Ganges River dolphin, which overlaps the same habitat as the Irrawaddy dolphin, is threatened by the same factors

The discovery of the new population was announced at the First International Conference on Marine Mammal Protected Areas in Maui, Hawaii.

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