Increasing Indus River dolphin mortality

The following news article was produced by Uzma Noureen at WWF-Pakistan.  For more information  she can be contacted at:  unoureen@wwf.panda.org

The Indus River Dolphin (Platanista gangetica minor) is an endangered subspecies of freshwater dolphin found only in the Indus River System in Pakistan.  In 2006 the entire subspecies was estimated to number about 1600 – 1750 individuals (Braulik et al. in review). The largest subpopulation, consisting of about 1200 individuals, exists at high density in a 200 km stretch of the Indus River between Guddu and Sukkur barrages in Sindh Province.  In the past, mortality rates within this subpopulation were very low (0-2 animals/year).  However, Indus dolphin mortality has increased dramatically following the devastating flood in 2010.  An unprecedented total of 28 dolphins were reported dead from between Guddu and Sukkur barrages in the year 2011.

The flood severely affected the socio-economic condition of indigenous communities escalating their dependence on natural resources.  Although fishing in the river is banned between Guddu and Sukkur barrages, a Dolphin Reserve, local people are dependent on fishing in the adjacent or appended temporary lakes, channels, canals and pools for their subsistence.  It is suspected that dolphins are attracted to such areas due to availability of prey, and become entangled in nets.

In addition, the recent amendments to the fisheries legislation in Sindh have changed fishing practices.  In the past powerful contractors controlled the fishing rights, but licenses are now issued to individuals at very low cost.  This has resulted in over harvesting of fish resources, and an increase in illegal fishing practices in the river, such as over-night netting and pesticide poisoning.  Traditional contract fishing systems still operate in some locations in the protected area, where contractors either hire local people to fish or bring in migrant labourers.

Finally, river turtles are the target of a new, large-scale, illegal trade to China.  Turtle hunters use methods such as leaving baited hooks over-night and pesticide poisoning, both of which may also have contributed to the increased river dolphin mortality.

Local wildlife departments and WWF-Pakistan are working to identify the causes of the Indus dolphin mortality.  They are also involving communities, and working with the provincial and federal government to address this emerging issue.

 

24th October is Freshwater Dolphin Day!

The 24th October is International Freshwater Dolphin Day. Declared at the “Workshop on Establishing Protected Areas for Freshwater Cetaceans” in East Kalimantan, Indonesia in October 2009, International Freshwater Dolphin Day will be celebrated by many events across the world.

In India, Ganges River dolphin awareness rallies will be held in villages.  Activities will include a boat safari to visit the dolphins, media press release, street theater, poster and drawing competitions, and informational lectures on the dolphins and the rivers they inhabit.

Along the Mahakam River in Indonesia, home to a critically endangered population of Irrawaddy dolphins, school education campaigns will be held to celebrate Freshwater Dolphin Day.  The day will also be marked by finalizing the management plan for a river dolphin Protected Area in West Kutai District, and it is hoped that an official community agreement will be reached for establishment of a second dolphin Protected Area in Central Kutai.  A National Conservation Strategy Action Plan for Mahakam dolphins from 2010-2020 has been developed under assignment of the General Directorate Conservation of Nature Department, Forestry Department.

In Bangladesh International Freshwater Dolphin Day is being marked with a month-long celebration. During the first week of October, the Bangladesh Forest Department approved the boundaries for three new wildlife sanctuaries for Ganges and Irrawaddy dolphins in the Eastern Sundarbans mangrove forest and forwarded the notification document to the Ministry of Environment and Forests for final approval. All three Wildlife Sanctuaries are based on recommendations from the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Bangladesh Cetacean Diversity Project (BCDP), which has been working on freshwater dolphin conservation in the Sundarbans since 2002.  The BCDP also convened a one-day training course on freshwater dolphin survey techniques for a team of 18 local and international scientists and university students. This was followed by a survey of dolphins in the Sundarbans mangrove forest. October also saw the initiation of an exciting new project, led by Nadia Richman of the Zoological Society of London, to study Ganges dolphins in the Karnaphuli-Sangu river system of southeastern Bangladesh.

For more details on these and other activities being held to celebrate Freshwater Dolphin Day, and also for information on research and conservation of the world’s freshwater dolphins, check the following website: http://www.freshwater-cetaceans.co.cc

6 Western Gray whales satellite tracked

This summer 6 western gray whales, one male and five females, were tagged with satellite tags off Sakhalin, Russia and their movements are now being monitored.  One tag was not well attached and has fallen off, at present there are still tags on 5 animals.  The whales are all in the Sakhalin area, three in the offshore feeding ground and two nearshore.

During the tagging efforts this summer, Flex (the whale tagged in 2010) was seen on several occasions.  He appeared to be in good body condition and, while scarred, the tag area has healed.

For more information and regular updates on the location of the tagged whales visit: http://mmi.oregonstate.edu/Sakhalin2011

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