The Irrawaddy Dolphin – A Critically Endangered Species found in Myanmar
Irrawaddy dolphins are found in coastal areas in South and Southeast Asia; the Ayeyarwady River in Myanmar, the Mahakam River in Borneo and the Mekong. They are generally found in Indonesia, India, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Philippines. They exist in small isolated populations around the area, and some populations are near to extinction such as those in the Mekong River and Malampaya in the Philippines. The major threats are fishing and habitat loss.
The Irrawaddy dolphin is identified by bulging forehead, short beak, and 12-19 teeth on each side of both jaws. The pectoral fin is broadly triangular. There is a small dorsal fin, on the posterior end of the back. This dolphin breathes at intervals of 70-150 seconds while diving. The length of head and body is 80-275 cm. And the color varies from slaty blue to slaty gray throughout, with the under parts slightly paler.
Irrawaddy dolphins inhibit in marine and freshwater environments and distributed in shallow, near-shore tropical and subtropical marine waters. They are mainly found in estuaries and semi-enclosed water bodies such as bays and sounds. Freshwater populations occur in river systems. They usually live in group of no more than 10 animals, and solitary individuals are rarely seen. They feed on fish and crustaceans.
Now, the dolphin population of the Ayeyarwady River is low, but however, fairly stable in recent years. One of the major culprits is electric fishing, which can cause electrocution of dolphins while fishermen try to kill fish by using batteries and long metal prods. That fishing method also causes habitat displacement and depletion of fish stocks. Another threat is entanglement in gillnets placed across large sections of the river to catch all passing fish. Sedimentation from operations like gold mining is also destroying the dolphin habitats. Habitat degradation due to development of dams, deforestation and various mining industries also continue to undermine the species to a lesser extent.
The Irrawaddy dolphins are crucial for the health of the Mekong River. They are also regarded as a sacred animal by both Khmer and Lao people, and play in vital source of income for communities involved in dolphin-watching ecotourism.
In the Philippines, the few Irrawaddy dolphins appear to be geographically isolated from other sub-populations, which could be critically endangered. The dolphin population is in danger of extirpation due to low numbers, limited range and high mortality.
Many organizations are now striving to reduce threats to dolphins through monitoring, law enforcement, education and livelihoods. The conservation project conducts regular monitoring, patrol trips and holding stakeholder meetings in communities with concerned government authorities to coordinate the reduction of threats. Annual count survey is conducted to monitor the total population of dolphins, and regular educational activities are done with schools and people living in the communities near The Irrawaddy Dolphin Protected Area (ADPA).
The project is also assisting the cooperative fishing communities for development in community-based eco-tourism in order to promote dolphin conservation and support the symbiotic relationship between cooperative fishermen and the dolphins.