No hope left for the remaining dolphins
The Irrawaddy dolphin has lost the battle for survival in Laos. The WWF declared the species functionally extinct in the East Asian country. There are just three of them left in the Cheuteal trans-boundary pool between southern Laos and northern Cambodia, down from six individuals earlier this year.
“There is no hope left for the remaining dolphins. The population is no longer able to recover,” said WWF Germany's Asia reporter Stefan Ziegler in German.
With just three individuals, the species is now functionally extinct in the trans-boundary pool, as there are too few potential breeding pairs to ensure its survival.
The main threat and most important reason for the Irrawaddy dolphin's decline is fishing. However, the fishermen responsible are not specifically catching them, but it is the gillnets they cast into the rivers to catch fish that are the culprit. The dolphins get caught in these nets and then drown.
In many parts of the world, gillnet fishing is banned, as it is in Cambodia as well. In the Mekong River, there are still about 80 Irrawaddy dolphins (sometimes called “Mekong dolphins”). However, their survival remains uncertain. “In Cambodia, they are being caught in illegal nets. On top of that, the pollution in the river, resulting from pesticides and heavy metals from agriculture and industrial activities, is still high. If the Mekong dolphin is to survive, the river needs to be a safe habitat for them,” said Ziegler.
During the summer this year, WWF staff had observed a calf and her mother swimming in the waters, sparking off hopes for the species' survival for the first time in a long while. (taucher.net/diveinside-offspring_for_rare_mekong_dolphins).
Irrawaddy dolphins bear offspring every two to three years. They can grow to more than 2.7 metres long and weigh 150 kilogram’s.
To curb overfishing and illegal fishing, the WWF has established several fisheries on the Mekong River itself. There are also 68 trained river guards spread out over 16 sections along a 150-km stretch. They patrol the area to ensure that the regulations are enforced in the designated dolphin-safe areas. The success of these arrangements: In 2004, their population declined by seven percent, and currently stands at only 1.6 percent.
The villagers are also provided with options for alternative sources of income, in the form of eco-tourism and conducting dolphin-watching cruises for tourists.
More information: www.wwf.de