Day of the dolphin
Posted on 23 October 2011
The 24th of October is International Freshwater Dolphin Day, a day in the Greater Mekong to celebrate the Irrawaddy dolphin as a unique part of Cambodia's biological heritage and think carefully about how we can all help to conserve it for future generations.The 24th of October is International Freshwater Dolphin Day, a day in the Greater Mekong to celebrate the Irrawaddy dolphin as a unique part of Cambodia's biological heritage and think carefully about how we can all help to conserve it for future generations.
In Cambodia the Irrawaddy dolphin is regarded as a sacred animal, and folk stories tell of its origin as a woman who, fearing disgrace, threw herself into the river, only to return as a dolphin.
In both Cambodia and Laos dolphins receive the highest level of legal protection. In 2010 WWF estimated that there are 85 dolphins in the Mekong River, and the population is continuing to decline. On-going research shows that in the Mekong, the species continues to be threatened by entanglement in gillnets, illegal fishing measures, increasing habitat degradation, and very high mortality in the young population, possibly related to disease and environmental contamination.
Recent efforts by the Royal Government of Cambodia have resulted in the development of dolphin conservation areas that when passed into law should provide protection from some of these threats and help the species' chances of survival in the Kingdom.
Irrawaddy dolphins, Orcaella brevirostris, are found in just three rivers around the world: the Mekong River, in Cambodia and Lao PDR, and once down into Vietnam, in the Mahakam River in Indonesian Borneo, and in the Ayeyarwaddy River - once called the Irrawaddy River - in Myanmar. Each of these populations numbers fewer than 100 individuals, and each is listed as Critically Endangered in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species - the highest level of threat.
Irrawaddy dolphins are unusual in that they live in freshwater habitats, estuaries and coastal marine environments, and are found in tropical Asia from the Philippines to India. The finless porpoise, Neophocaena phocaenoides, is found in the Yangtze River and also found in marine environments. Other freshwater dolphins are the Susu, Platanista gangetica, also known as the Ganges or Indus River dolphin, which is found in some South Asian river systems, while the Boto, Inia geoffrensis, the Bolivian River dolphin, Inia boliviensis, and the Tucuxci, Sotalia fluviatilis, are all found in South America.
Freshwater dolphins are poorly known and because of their dependence on the freshwater systems that also support many millions of people worldwide, are often threatened with extinction due to human impacts in their environment. All freshwater dolphins are considered threatened or data deficient on the IUCN Red List.
International Freshwater Dolphin Day is also a sad reminder of the first human caused extinction of a dolphin - the recently lost Baiji, Lipotes vexillifer, a beautiful and unique creature that lived until recently in China's Yangtze River.
WWF has active projects to conserve freshwater dolphins around the world, working with national partners and local communities to secure the future of these mystic animals. In Cambodia, WWF implements the Cambodian Mekong Dolphin Conservation Project in partnership with the Fisheries Administration and the Cambodian Rural Development Team, and does community outreach and education, research, policy development and alternative livelihoods initiatives with communities along the Mekong River.