The need to protect dolphins in the Mekong River from extinction is critical

Posted on 09 September 2013  | 
On September 3rd 2013, an adult female dolphin died and was discovered floating in the Mekong River in Kandal province, 20km south of Phnom Penh. Wounds on the animal suggest that it was caught in a fishing net –in which it probably died– before being cut out of the net, perhaps by the net owner. The death of a healthy adult female is especially sad, as this is a direct blow to the breeding potential of the Mekong’s dolphins.

The carcass was transferred to the Fisheries Administration in Phnom Penh for necropsy to determine the cause of death. This is the third dolphin to die this year, which brings the total number to 23 dead dolphins since 2010. The Mekong River Irrawaddy dolphin is Red-listed by the IUCN as critically endangered. WWF-Fisheries Administration’s dolphin population surveys in 2010 estimated that there are between 78 to 91 surviving individuals, but the population is declining slowly. WWF is extremely concerned about future disappearance of the Mekong dolphin from the River, if mortality continues at this current rate.

The Mekong dolphin population is usually restricted to the 180-km stretch of the Mekong between Kampi and the Lao border, though occasionally seen outside this area. The carcass found near Phnom Penh is far from the typical home range of the population, though with the very fast currents of the wet season, it is likely the animal died far upstream and was washed down.

Entanglement in gillnets –a cheap and ubiquitous fishing net– is the best known threat to Mekong dolphins and believed to be responsible for the majority of adult dolphin deaths. In August 2012, the Royal Government of Cambodia issued a sub-decree to ban the use of gillnets in the dolphin habitat and while continuing to reinforce other laws related to fisheries. The small population and limited range also makes the population vulnerable to disease, inbreeding, and habitat loss.

As gillnet deaths continue within the dolphin’s home range, WWF calls for firm enforcement of the Cambodian Government’s sub-decree and reinforced patrol effort throughout the entire dolphin habitat. WWF also asks the local communities living along the Mekong River where dolphins live to fully support implementation of the laws by stopping the use of gillnets, which are prohibited, and collaborate with the Government’s enforcement teams to protect the Mekong dolphin from going extinct, for the benefit of people and their environment.

Meanwhile, WWF and the Cambodian Government are continuing to conduct scientific research to determine other causes to dolphin mortality, especially in young calves. In support of the enforcement work by the Commission for Dolphin Conservation and Development of Mekong River Dolphin Ecotourism Zone, WWF also provided equipment and a series of training in skills necessary for effective law enforcement.

These collaborative efforts reflect the Kratie Declaration on the Conservation of the Mekong River Irrawaddy Dolphin signed in January 2012 by the Commission for Dolphin Conservation and Development of Mekong River Dolphin Ecotourism Zone, the Fisheries Administration and WWF, at the conclusion of three days of meetings involving national and international experts to discuss urgent conservation actions for the critically endangered Mekong River Irrawaddy dolphin.

The Declaration makes key recommendations for immediate conservation actions including: use new technology and methods to improve understanding of dolphin behaviour, population status, and causes of mortality; minimise or eliminate gillnet-related mortality through effective law enforcement and monitoring; and more direct involvement of local communities in dolphin conservation.
Irrawaddy dolphins (Orcaella Brevirostris) at Koh Kon Sat, Mekong River, Cambodia. The dolphins were photographed during the dolphin population research conducted by WWF Cambodia's Mekong Dolphin Conservation Project in November 2007.
© David Dove / WWF Greater Mekong Enlarge

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