Apologies for the gap between postings but we've been out in the field trying to undertake some research of our own on the cetaceans found around the coast of Scotland. But better late than never ... !
The freshwater regions of India are resident to two very different but equally elusive dolphins, the Irrawaddy dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris) and Ganges River dolphin (Platanista gangetica). Over the years, WDCS has been heavily involved in a number of projects focusing on their protection and conservation for the future.
The Chilika lagoon, in Orissa, north-east India, has been the focus of WDCS funded efforts towards conserving Irrawaddy dolphins in India. The lagoon itself is a designated RAMSAR site due to its rich diversity of life, notably its migratory birds and 250 species strong assemblage of fish. However it is the Irrawaddy dolphin that is the lagoon’s flagship species. The population found in the lagoon is thought to be geographically isolated and therefore immediately vulnerable to any threats to their population size, whether big or small. As with all other river dolphin species, impacts from fishing efforts are the major threat. WDCS funded researchers Dipani Sutaria and Coralie D’Lima have been focusing on both ecological research and studies into the human-dolphin interactions that impact on the dolphin population. The project is having success promoting ecotourism activities and surveying the Irrawaddy population fully in order to implement sufficient conservation practices. Local populations hold the dolphins in high regard and gaining their support and co-operation has not been difficult. However, deteriorating habitat quality and increased human disturbances are still serious issues and the population remains endangered.
Alongside the Chilika laggon project, WDCS has also been collaborating with an important project focused on the conservation of the Ganges River dolphin. WDCS is working with researchers at Bhagalpur University in Bihar, in attempts to further the protection of the dolphins in the only protected area they inhabit, the Vikramshila Gangetic Dolphin Sanctuary. It is a 60km stretch of the River Ganges which boasts a high diversity of animal life as well as a relatively high density of the river dolphins. The Ganges River dolphin faces significant threats to their future, on a scale perhaps higher than any other river dolphin.
The river supports vast numbers of economically impoverished people as well as large scale industry involving high levels of boat traffic. Competition with humans for resources, degrading habitat quality and extremely high levels of pollution are all serious threats. To make matters worse, the dolphins are targeted for their meat and oil. WDCS and the Vikramshila Biodiversity Research and Education Centre have been working to ensure the sanctuary is effective in its conservation measures and that they are supported by the proper legislation. A good level of baseline ecological information on the dolphins and their habitats has been collected alongside a variety of education and awareness programmes. The health of the river is essential to both dolphins and humans, as is the health of the dolphins to the river. As such, both dolphins and humans are on the same team and the challenge is to convey fact this to the local populations and authorities. WDCS continues to work towards ensuring that this is achieved.