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Irrawaddy dolphins in the news



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Cambodia appoints group to save Irrawaddy dolphin

Cambodia has appointed a commission to help save the endangered Irrawaddy dolphin, fearing that a unique natural treasure could become extinct, a senior official said Monday.

At least a dozen of the dolphins have died since the beginning of the year. According to the World Wildlife Fund, just an estimated 80 to 110 dolphins remain in Cambodia's Mekong River.

Prime Minister Hun Sen signed a decree appointing a dolphin conservation committee last Friday, said commission member Thong Khon, the deputy minister of tourism. The commission's task will be to save the dolphins and use them for tourism promotion.

Thong Khon noted that Cambodian dolphins die every year during fishing season from December to March, "but when they die in increasing numbers like this, we have to worry about the them."

"They are a national heritage, like the Angkor temples," he said, referring to the famous centuries-old archaeological site in northwestern Cambodia. "The government is committed to protecting them using all means.'

Last week, Phai Somany, a senior officer of the Fisheries Department's Cambodian Mekong Dolphin Conservation Project, warned that Cambodia's population of Irrawaddy dolphins could vanish within a decade unless strict enforcement is undertaken to protect them.

He said that since the beginning of this year 14 dolphins -- mostly calves -- have died in Cambodia's part of the Mekong River, which also runs through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Seng Teak, country director of the World Wildlife Fund, said Monday that only 12 have died and the higher count was a result of a misunderstanding.

He said that the estimated 80 to 110 remaining dolphins, classified by the WWF as "critically endangered," are living in about 11 pools in the Mekong, upstream of Phnom Penh in Kratie and Stung Treng provinces.

He welcomed the formation of the dolphin conservation committee, saying it will provide a stronger "legal tool" for conservation efforts.

The Tourism Ministry's Thong Khon said one of the new committee's main tasks will be to define a "fishing-free zone" for the dolphins, some of who may have been killed by fishing nets.

Pollution and disease were also possible causes of death, Seng Teak said, adding that samples from some dead dolphins have been sent for testing in the United States and Canada, but results have not yet been received.


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Baby dolphins die in Cambodia’s River

Two more Irrawaddy dolphins have died in Cambodia 's stretch of the Mekong River , raising concerns about the survival of the species, officials said Wednesday. The two calves, aged between four weeks and two months, were discovered floating in the river on Monday, said Lor Bun San of the Cambodian Mekong Dolphin Conservation Project.

The cause of their deaths was not immediately known, but officials have said that environmental pollution and illegal fishing nets were probably behind the recent deaths of at least eight other Irrawaddy dolphins in Cambodia 's portion of the Mekong . The World Wildlife Fund has called the deaths a "serious situation" that threatens the future of the animals.

It was estimated earlier this month that only 80 to 100 Irrawaddy dolphins are left in the Mekong River, which runs through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. The WWF said the remaining dolphins are restricted to a 190-kilometer (120-mile) stretch of the river between the Cambodia-Laos border and the Cambodian town of Kratie , upstream from the capital, Phnom Penh.

Sam Kim Lorn, chief fisheries officer in Kratie province, said the dolphin death toll this year has already surpassed the total of eight in 2005. He said illegal fishing nets were the cause of most dolphin deaths and that authorities were conducting day-and-night patrols of the river to crack down on the problem.

River pollution and disease could also have been factors in the recent deaths, he said. The WWF has no estimates of how many Irrawaddy dolphins are left in the world. The animals are also found in waters around the Philippines , Thailand , Myanmar , Indonesia and Australia , reports the AP.


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Pink dolphin rescued in Thailand

A rare pink dolphin has been released into the sea after it was rescued at a resort in Thailand.

The rescue operations were conducted after the fishery officials looked into complaints that the resort was training the highly endangered animal for tourist shows.

The two-year-old male pink dolphin, Jessy had nearly died after it got entangled in fishing nets at a resort. It was found injured near the island of Koh Samui in September 2005.

Two months later, a wildlife organisation obtained pictures showing a trainer working with the dolphin in a pool.

Wildlife groups have said they are "very concerned" about the increase of illegal wildlife captures headed for tourist destinations.


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Dolphin deaths threaten species

The death of 10 river dolphins in Cambodia, probably because of environmental pollution, threatens the survival of the species in the Mekong, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said on Friday.

WWF estimates that there are only 80 to 100 of the Irrawaddy dolphins left in the river. Of the 10 that died, eight were calves, and the loss of the young will threaten future reproduction, the Gland, Switzerland-based organisation said.

"This is terrible news, making a serious situation even more critical," said WWF's Robert Mather. "This time of year commonly sees a peak in dolphin deaths; however, 10 in the last two months is particularly high and disappointing since none have been reported since May 2005."

The loss of the calves continues a "worrying trend" of high death rates in baby dolphins in the Mekong river, WWF said.

Cause to be revealed

"This trend has been seen for a number of years and is suspected to be due to some form of environmental pollution. However, ongoing tissue samples and chemical analysis have yet to reveal the cause," the organisation said in a statement.

The remaining 80 to 100 dolphins are now restricted to a 190km stretch of the river between the Cambodia-Laos border and the Cambodian town of Kratie, upstream from the capital Phnom Penh.

"River dolphins like the Irrawaddy are the waters' watchdogs," said Jamie Pittock, a freshwater expert at WWF. "When high levels of toxic pollutants accumulate in their bodies this is a stark warning of poor water quality for dolphins and the people who live from the river."

At least one of the dead dolphins was killed by entanglement in fishing nets, probably the single greatest threat freshwater dolphin species, WWF said.


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Tourists defy dolphin feeding ban

TOURISTS have continued to feed dolphins at a bay in southeast Queensland despite the threat of large fines because of a ban

on the practice by the state government. Tin Can Bay local cafe owner Steve Walker said about 70 tourists fed the wild Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins this morning with food supplied by his cafe, risking fines of up to $1,125 each.

Queensland Environment Minister Desley Boyle said this week that the feeding of the dolphins near the Tin Can Bay's Norman Point boat ramp would stop because it was illegal and potentially harmful to the mammals.

Mr Walker, who owns Barnacles Bait and Cafe, said the bans would affect the community north of Gym pie "financially and spiritually".

"In a little town like Tin Can Bay, it's a small town, we have one main source of tourism in Tin Can Bay, that's the dolphins," he said.

"The minister has given us no lee-way, she has just shut it down.

"One barrister has offered to help us for free, and I have no doubt this is heading to the High Court."

Ms Boyle said the feeding posed a great risk of boat injuries and illness to wild dolphins.

"We care about these rare and beautiful animals and it is not in their best interests to be fed," she said.

"These are wild dolphins, not like the domesticated dolphins ? that are dependant on humans for food.

"This is no joke, we are dead-set serious. We will use legal powers to stop the feeding if it necessary."

She said the agreement on dolphin feeding with Barnacles Bait and Cafe's former owners came to an end in March this year and it had been signed on the basis that the feeding would be phased out.


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Dolphin sanctuary to come up in Chilk

Bhubaneswar: A new Dolphin sanctuary in Chilka Lake, the largest brackish water lagoon in the country, has been mooted to conserve and preserve the rare marine species.

The proposed sanctuary spread over 30 sq km covering Magarmukh, located along the east coast has been identified as a significant hotspot of biodiversity in the region harbouring the largest number of Irrawaddy dolphins.

The fresh water population of the species is found only in South and South East Asian waters and that found in Chilka lagoon in India and Songkhla lake in Thailand are two isolated or partially isolated cases.

Although the Chilka Irrawaddy population appears healthy, the threats facing them are significant and mortality rates are far higher than natural mortality rates.

The main identified threats to the dolphins are from the operation of a variety of fishing nets and gears and from mechanised boats.

Operation of nets in dolphin rich areas as well as the channel used by them for movement is detrimental to them. High density tourist boats plying along the narrow Outer channel for dolphin watching is another major threat.


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Don't Eat The Irrawaddy Dolphins??!!

The Turtle and Marine Ecosystem Centre (Tumec) said today that the Irrawaddy dolphin (Orcaella Brevirostris) is a protected species.

It is an offence to kill or keep these marine mammals in captivity and offenders face a maximum RM5,000 fine. Tumec chief Kamaruddin Ibrahim said.

"We hope that all dolphins, including the Irrawaddy dolphins, are released if caught in fishermen's nets...please let them go," he told Bernama here.

Yesterday, a 34kg Irrawaddy dolphin was caught in a fisherman's net in the Muara Tebas estuary in Sarawak, then put on sale to the public. The meat of the dolphin, or pesut as they call it in Sarawak, is a delicacy.

It seems that only the riverine communities in Sarawak, plus the Muslim Cambodians, eat the meat of this animal, whereas others consider them sacred, and will let them go once they get caught in fishermen's nets.

He said that this species was normally found in estuaries in Sarawak and probably even in other rivers in Malaysia.


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Australia says finds new dolphin: the Snubfin

Don't call use Irrawaddy dolphins! It doesn't match our... skulls! snubby, indeed!

Australian researchers have identified a new species of dolphin which was once thought to have been the same as an extremely rare mammal predominantly found in Asian coastal waters and rivers.

The Australian Snubfin Dolphin has been declared a separate species to the Irrawaddy dolphins of Southeast Asia, one of the rarest sea mammals on the planet, researchers at James Cook University and the Museum of Tropical Queensland said on Tuesday.

Researcher Isabel Beasley said the newly identified Australian Snubfin Dolphins, or Orcaella heinsohni, live in shallow waters off northern Australia and possibly in neighbouring Papua New Guinea.

Beasley said it was impossible to estimate the population of these dolphins because not enough was known about them, but thought one group of about 200 of the dolphins lived off Townsville in the far north of Australia's Queensland state.

"It means that Australia now has an endemic species living in its waters and it's a higher conservation priority now," Beasley told Reuters by telephone.

Australian Snubfins are close relations of the highly endangered Irrawaddy, or Orcaella brevirostris.

Conservation group WWF International estimates there are fewer than 1,000 of the small, migratory and poor-sighted Irrawaddy left in the shallow, murky coastal waters of countries such as Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia.

Because the new Australian species also lives in shallow waters, Beasley fears they face the same threats as Irrawaddy.

"Unfortunately, because they live in these environments, they are susceptible to many human threats including accidental catch in shark and fishing nets as well as the effects of coastal development," she said.

The Australian scientists said they hoped publication of their findings in the Marine Mammal Science journal would open the way for more research into the little-known new species.

"Even though Australia is a developed country with more resources than Asian countries, more is known about the Mekong River dolphin population in Cambodia than the Australian species," said Peter Arnold of the Museum of Tropical Queensland.

Beasley began to investigate after she noticed variations in size and colour between the Asian and Australian dolphins. The Australian Snubfins were found to have three colours on their bodies ranging from dark brown to white compared with uniformly slate grey of the Irrawaddy.

Beasley and Arnold said they identified the new species by examining the skulls and external measurements and observing the dolphins in seven countries.

A genetic study undertaken with the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration's Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, California confirmed their suspicions.

"There are clear differences between the two populations that had not been previously recognised and these were confirmed by the studies on DNA," Beasley said.


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More than ten thousand sea mammals are killed a day by fishing gear

The World Wildlife Fund estimates that around least ten thousand dolphins and porpoises a day are caught up in gilnets used by commercial fishermen throughout the world's oceans.

The vast majority of endangered dolphins and porpoises could be saved by simple methods to prevent "bycatch," according to a new report released by the World Wildlife Fund.

Scientists took a positive approach to the problem by examining those areas where species could be brought back from the edge of extinction with a minimum expenditure in education and equipment.

"Bycatch" is a term used to describe marine animals that are unintentionally entangled in fishing gear that causes the animals to become trapped underwater and drowned. Bycatch victims are usually caught up in gilnets as these huge nets are reeled into a fishing trawler.

However, fishermen in less advanced areas of the world have also been known to find unwanted sea mammals in their nets.

The World Wildlife Fund estimates that around least ten thousand dolphins and porpoises a day are caught up in gilnets used by commercial fishermen throughout the world's oceans. Karen Baragona heads the species conservation department for the World Wildlife Fund office in Washington, DC.

She notes that a modest investment and some small changes in regulations could save thousands of dolphins and porpoises a day from being killed by commercial fishermen.

The Fund's report notes that at least 9 different species could be saved with cooperation between fishermen and national governments.

For example, the report notes that the Irrawaddy Dolphin off the coast of the Philippines could be saved by improvement of the crab pot catching efficiency and establishment of a "gilnet" free zone.

The Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphin and Bottlenose Dolphin can be brought back to healthy populations by stricter management procedures to help control gilnet usage.

These dolphin species have become major tourist attractions off the coast of Zanzibar and East Africa. Baragona stresses that fishermen don't like bycatch as it can be destructive to their livelihood.

The report is based on the findings of a working group of the world's leading dolphin and porpoise scientists. They were asked to rank areas where action on gilnetting could reverse the decline in the dolphin and porpoise population.


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Irrawaddy dolphin up-listed from CITES Appendix II to Appendix I

THIRTEENTH MEETING OF THE CONFERENCE OF THE PARTIES: COP-13 met in Bangkok, Thailand, from 2-14 October 2004. Delegates addressed a range of topics, including 50 proposals to amend the CITES Appendices, enforcement and administrative matters, and cooperation with the CBD and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Delegates decided to list ramin, agarwood, as well as the great white shark and the humphead wrasse, on Appendix II. The irrawaddy dolphin was up-listed from Appendix II to Appendix I.

Irrawaddy dolphins increase in Chilika

The number of endangered Irrawady dolphins in Chilika, Asia's largest saltwater lake, has gone up marginally despite the threat posed by unregulated fishing and high-speed tourist boats.

According to a survey conducted by the Chilika Development Authority, the number has increased from 89 last year to 124. The lake is locate in Orissa.

"We carried out a survey this month to estimate the dolphin population and spotted 124 Irrawaddy dolphins in Chilika," Ajit Kumar Patnaik, chief executive of the Chilika Development Authority, told IANS.

Located about 110 km from here, Chilika lake has a unique combination of marine, brackish and fresh water ecosystems. Apart from Chilika, Irrawady dolphins are found in Songkhla lake in Thailand. While it is difficult to spot them in Thailand, the dolphins can be easily sighted in Orissa.

During the survey, officials sighted 113 adult dolphins and 11 calves. Approximately 37.9 percent of the dolphins were sighted in the main Chilika lake with uniform distribution in the southern and central sectors.

The Irrawady dolphin is a small cetacean that inhabits coastal and estuarine waters of Asia, from western Bay of Bengal to southern Philippines and northern Australia.

Adult Irrawaddy dolphins range in length from two meters to 2.75 meters and are thought to reach sexual maturity at three to four years of age.

Little is known about the biology of this species. But as with other small cetaceans, under the best circumstances, adult females probably have only one calf every two to three years, officials said.

Irrawaddy dolphins were first recorded in Chilika in 1915. But their population, movements between coastal and lagoon waters and mortality rates have remained undocumented.

Although the dolphins in Chilika are not hunted for their meat, mechanized fishing trawlers and tourist boats with large propellers often wreak havoc on the mammals.

Officials have said at least 11 dolphins were killed in 2001-02 due to mechanized boats.

In India very little is known about the whales, dolphins and porpoises that inhabit coastal waters.

However, recent studies in Chilika lagoon initiated under a project sponsored by the environment and forests ministry have significantly enriched the knowledge base on Irrawaddy dolphins.

These studies have made a significant contribution towards documenting the Irrawaddy dolphin population and identifying steps that need to be taken to protect and managing the species.

A total of 72 people, including 18 data recorders, 18 boatmen and 36 observers, conducted the survey using nearly 20 boats.

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Park Rangers Catch Suspects in Irrawaddy Death


Park rangers in Cambodia's Srepok Wilderness Area apprehended four fishermen suspected of killing a critically endangered Irrawaddy dolphin while engaged in the destructive practice of dynamite fishing in the Srepok River. WWF -- which works closely with the Cambodian Forestry Administration to manage and protect the almost-1,500 square mile Srepok Wilderness Area -- is pushing for prosecution of the fishermen.

"I'm proud that rangers were able to play a part in catching these suspects," said Teak Seng, WWF-Cambodia's country director. "The court action against the four is an example of Cambodia's strong commitment to wildlife protection."

The Srepok Wilderness Area in eastern Cambodia is home to many endangered mammals, fish and birds. Ironically, the death of the dolphin is the first evidence that the rare species survives in Srepok River, from which the Irrawaddy was thought to have disappeared more than a decade ago.

The Irrawaddy dolphin recently received protection under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), that bans their removal from the wild for sale to aquariums and dolphin shows. While there is no current population estimate for Irrawaddy dolphins, there has been a decline across their range and there are likely fewer than 1,000 in Southeast Asia.

Their survival continues to be threatened by high rates of death from drowning in fishing nets, not only in Cambodia, but everywhere they are found, from Australia to India to the Philippines.

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Tsunami dolphins rescued from Thai lagoon

Rescuers freed a humpback dolphin from a small Thai lagoon where the Asian tsunami had dumped it – returning it today to the Andaman Sea in a rare story of survival 10 days after the massive waves crushed tourist resorts in the surrounding Khao Lak area.

The dolphin, spotted Monday half a mile from the beach by a man searching for his missing wife, had become a symbol of hope amid the death and destruction.

But two days of efforts to free it failed, first because the nets were too small, then because trees and other debris on the bottom of the lagoon apparently tore holes in the nets and allowed the dolphin to slip out.

Officials had planned to wait until Saturday to try again, but local fishermen and soldiers showed up with a double net today.

As about 150 people watched, soldiers lined the length of the nets, splashing to herd the dolphin into a corner of the lagoon. It managed to jump the first net, but then was trapped between the two nets.

The soldiers put in on a stretcher and pulled it up the muddy bank and into a pickup truck, where it was laid on an air mattress and driven to the sea.

The rescuers then walked out into the water and released the dolphin, which quickly swam away.

“She’s out!” Edwin Wiek, a Dutchman who is director of the Wildlife Friends of Thailand Rescue Centre, said jubilantly. “I think she’s going to survive.”

The fate of a second, smaller dolphin – believed to be the larger one’s calf - was unclear.

It was not seen during the rescue, and Wiek said a couple of wildlife workers would maintain a vigil for a couple of hours. If it was spotted, a rescue attempt would be mounted on Friday.

Of the dolphin rescued today, Wiek said: “She seemed to be pretty exhausted at the end, so she actually drove herself into the net."

Wiek said the dolphin, which originally was spotted with a shallow wound on her back, suffered some small injuries from the net, so it received an injection of antibiotics, also smeared on the wounds.

The net had caught its fins awkwardly, and the mammal, estimated at 13 to 15 years old, appeared to be crying, he added.

The rescuers then carried the dolphin from the truck, walked out into the water and released it.

“She went off like a rocket,” Wiek said.

Local fishermen also managed to trap and free a dugong – a type of sea mammal - that had been trapped in a lagoon near a navy base in Phang Nga province.

About 500 to 600 Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins are believed to inhabit the seas around Thailand, migrating between the Indian and Pacific oceans.


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Deaths of rare dolphins in Mekong River triples this year:

The number of rare dolphins dying in the Mekong River has tripled since last year, probably due to falling water levels or pollution, a biologist in Cambodia warned Friday.

Some 10 dolphins have died since the start of the year, compared with around three or four over the same period last year, dolphin biologist Isabel Beasely told AFP.

"It's a huge increase," she said by telephone from the river at the Cambodia-Lao border.

Around 100 endangered Irrawaddy dolphins are estimated to live in the Mekong River, with their habitat reduced this year by drought which has shrunk the river to a trickle in parts, exposing the dolphins more readily to fishing nets.

"At least two (of four adults) were caught in gill nets... We just don't know why the baby dolphins are dying. The low water on the Mekong is probably causing them to be more easily entangled in fishing gear," Beasley said.

Alternatively, the deaths may be due to pollution.

"In other countries, environmental pollution is a reason for high calf mortality," she said, noting that gold mining carried out along the river in Cambodia could be to blame.

"Nobody really knows what methods they are using or what chemicals they are using. This is something that needs to be investigated a little more."

The Mekong, which snakes through China, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, was once home to thousands of the dolphins but the population has been devastated by fishing in recent years.

Beasley, who works on the Mekong Dolphin Conservation Project run in cooperation with the Cambodian fisheries department, said at least seven calves were among the remaining population, indicating the species could survive.

"Given effective conservation efforts, the population has a very good chance of surviving in the river... Conservation needs to be focused on the nine critical areas the dolphins are found," she said.

Lao and Cambodian villagers Friday worked together to remove fishing nets from a pool where two calves have been found in an bid to help them survive, in what Beasley said appeared to be a first for cooperation between the countries.

In the early 1990s Lao villagers attempted to set up a conservation zone for the dolphins but the Cambodians refused to abide by it.

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