Episode 6 – Irrawaddy River Dolphins

Fast Facts:

• The Mekong River Irrawaddy dolphin population is very small, currently estimated at around only 100 individuals
• Since the filming of Planet Action ended ten dolphins have been found dead, three in December and seven in January
• Eight of the dolphins found dead were babies. Although the precise reason is not known, this is suspected to be caused by some form of environmental pollution. Studies are ongoing as to what this could be.
• The dolphins spend a significant proportion of their life in deep water pools along the river. In the wet season they can travel quite long distances but in the dry season they tend to remain in particular ‘deep pools’
• At present, the biggest threat to Irrawaddy dolphins is accidental catch in a particular type of fishing net, called a gillnet.
• The dolphins get caught because their ‘deep pools’ are also where many of the fish live – therefore the ‘pools’ are good fishing spots.
• A crucial part of river dolphin conservation work is to help develop alternative livelihoods for local people and training in how to make sure the alternative livelihoods are long term.
• Rapid and poorly planned dolphin watching tourism development is also beginning to threaten the survival of the species.
River Dolphins and the Mekong River
River dolphins and porpoises are among the world’s most threatened mammal species.
The Irrawaddy dolphin is one of these. It’s found in a few parts of South-East Asia, mostly in rivers, coastal lagoons, estuaries and mangrove areas. The Mahakam river (Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo) population of Irrawaddy dolphins is severely threatened by fisheries by-catch and habitat degradation, and may number as few as 34 animals. Another population of Irrawaddy dolphins in the Malampaya Sound in the Philippines consists of just 77 individuals.

Therefore, although Irrawaddy dolphin numbers in the Mekong River are incredibly low, they represent one of the largest remaining populations in the world. The potential for effective conservation and subsequent population growth is encouraging. Due to the restricted stretch of river in which the dolphins live and swim (particularly during the dry season) and local communities’ cultural affinity for the dolphins, conservation measures have significant potential to be successful. With support from the local communities and the political will of the Cambodian government there’s a great hope that the dolphins may be saved.

As one of the top predators in the food chain the Irrawaddy dolphin is also seen as a flagship species. That means that its fate is strongly and directly linked the fate of many other species that live in, and rely on, the river – including people.
© Animal Planet
Animal Planet
© Animal Planet

Key Contact

Contact for more ...

Rajiv Bakshi
Associate Director
Marketing & Communications
Discovery Networks India
T: 4149 1164

WWF in Kratie

Dolphin conservation work in Kratie Province in Cambodia started in January 2001. WWF took over leadership of the project in 2005. WWF is working with local partners to undertake a census of the dolphin population in the Mekong River. With this in place, it’s much easier to develop and implement effective conservation and management initiatives, build capacity amongst local government officials, and work with local people so that they understand the importance of the Irrawaddy dolphins.

Conservation efforts up to date have meant that it’s been possible to develop a sound understanding of the situation facing the Irrawaddy dolphins of the Mekong, and subsequently develop what many regard to be one of the most comprehensive species conservation plans in the region.

However, in order to effectively implement the current conservation plan, it is essential that efforts are scaled up, united, and conducted immediately to secure the future of this dolphin population in the Mekong River, before it becomes so small that conservation efforts are effectively futile.

How You Can Help Save Irrawaddy Dolphins

• Support WWF’s work on the ground http://www.panda.org/join
• Join Panda Passport, WWF’s online lobbying site http://www.passport.panda.org
• Practice Responsible Dolphin tourism
• Support local souvenirs at the Kampi pool site
Donate to WWF

Your support will help us build a future where humans live in harmony with nature.