Indus River dolphin - Threats

Its habitat cut up in pieces

The main reason for the decline of the Indus River dolphin was the construction of numerous dams and barrages, starting in the 1930's. These split the population into small groups, degraded habitat and impeded migration. Accidental capture in fishing nets and hunting for meat, oil and traditional medicine have also had an adverse impact.
Habitat loss
The construction of barrages, a 60,000 km long network of irrigation canal and the resulting habitat fragmentation has lead to strandings of the species in irrigation canals. These stranding usually go unreported, and as a result, individuals are left to die. Dolphins are no longer found in the lower parts of the Indus due to water extraction which dries-up downstream channels for several months each year.

Some dolphins that have moved downstream may be unable to swim back because of strong currents and barrages. Efforts have been made to return dolphins trapped in canals to the river. Since 2000, 34 dolphins have been rescued.
Find out more about habitat loss and degradation

Directed take
Indus dolphins were sought and killed for oil until the early 1970s. In addition, some communities who rely heavily on fishing consider that they are competing with Indus River dolphins for fish.

If dolphins swim further away into the irrigation canals, remote communities that have never seen an Indus River dolphin perceive them as a threat and sometimes kill them. Poaching still occurs sporadically, despite a ban on hunting.

Bycatch
Because fishing nets are set for extended hours, including overnight, dolphins sometimes get trapped and drown. Although bycatch (accidental catch) is a more serious issue for marine cetaceans, it cannot be ignored as a potential threat to freshwater species such as the Indus River dolphin.
Find out more about bycatch

Pollution
Pollution is suspected to inhibit population increase, a phenomenon likely to be exacerbated by the absence of strong water flow.

Untreated sewage is directly polluting the Indus River. The communities residing along the banks of the River and along irrigation canals do not have any toilets - sewage goes directly into the water. Furthermore, other activities such as washing clothes and cooking utensils is also a source of pollution.

Industrial pollution has reportedly caused massive fish kills in urban areas, and industrial effluents are poured into the river. As the Indus Basin is predominantly a cultivated area, and crops such as sugarcane and cotton are prevalent, there has been an increase in pesticide use along the riverbank.
Find out more about pollution

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required
Donate to WWF

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