There are an estimated 1,200-1,800 Ganges River dolphins alive. In the early 1980s there were about 4,500. What is causing the decline? Mainly dams, pollution and hunting by local fisherman. Their habitats in the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna and Karnaphuli-Sangu river systems are located near some of the densest human populations on Earth. Naturally humans there use the river waters for just about everything they want, but the impact on river life has been severe in some cases. More than fifty dams and irrigation projects have altered and reduced the dolphin’s natural environment.
Also industrial pollutants, agricultural run-off and municipal sewage have fouled the waters. Some dolphins are caught in fishing nets intended for other fish. It is very rare to see the Ganges River Dolphin now. In India they are called Susu, because when they surface for air they make a sound which sounds like that name. Males and females are about 6-7 feet long and are grayish brown. They are one of only four freshwater dolphins species in the world.
The World Wildlife Fund is working with Hindu priests who live near the Ganges to educate villagers about the endangered dolphins to reduce and prevent hunting. Priests there are typically well-respected and villagers appear to value their lectures. Dolphins are sometimes hunted and killed to use for bait when villagers are trying to catch other river fish such as catfish for food. The WWF website says some research looking for alternatives to dolphins for such purposes has been promising. Actors are also putting on plays to present the message of dolphin conservation, and the more commonly recognized theme of the sacredness of the Ganges. At least in one part of the northern Ganges, the last fifteen years of efforts to help the dolphins has paid off with an increase of the population from about 18 to 56.
The Indian government has recognized Ganges River Dolphins as India’s national aquatic animal, in hopes the raising of awareness will reduce threats to it.
Image Credit: wwfindia.org