Dying dolphins warn Asian rivers must improve

Heavily depleting numbers of Asian river dolphins should act as a stark warning that more needs to be done to prevent the pollution of rivers in countries such as India and China.

A Sindh Wildlife Department worker releases an Indus river dolphin back into the wild after a rescue operation in Pakistan earlier this year. Copyright WWF-Canon / WWF-Pakistan/Uzma Khan

A Sindh Wildlife Department worker releases an Indus river dolphin back into the wild after a rescue operation in Pakistan earlier this year. Copyright WWF-Canon / WWF-Pakistan/Uzma Khan

A severe decline has been seen in river dolphin populations due to waters becoming more polluted with industrial, agricultural and human waste. Dams also pose problems as they restrict the dolphins' movements, and accidental catches or getting caught up in fishing gear are some of the major threats facing this aquatic mammal.

The fact that the river dolphin numbers are declining so rapidly, however, is very worrying according to conservation organisation WWF as they are key indicators of a river's health, as well as the availability of clean water for the people living along its banks.

"River dolphins are the watchdogs of the water, and the high levels of toxic pollutants accumulating in their bodies are a stark warning of poor water quality," director of WWF's global freshwater programme Jamie Pittock said. "This is a problem both for dolphins and the people dependent on these rivers."

The most threatened of all is the Yangtze River dolphin, with only 13 individuals left in China's biggest river. Further studies have shown that there are under 2,000 left in the Indian Ganges River, with a similar number of Irrawaddy dolphins left in Asia-Pacific waters, and only around 1,000 dolphins scattered throughout Pakistan over fiver dolphin populations.

River dolphins swim in some of the world's most densely populated river basins, such as the Ganges and the Indus, and this also where one tenth of the world's population lives.

WWF has launched initiatives in these areas to encourage local communities not to pollute the rivers with household detergents, as well as preventing toxic run-off by using natural fertilizers such as cow manure in the place of chemicals.

One such project in the Ganges has now seen local dolphin numbers more than double as a result.

"Clean water is not only vital for the survival of the river dolphin, but also for the quality of life for millions of the world's poor," Mr Pittock explained. "Conserving biodiversity and alleviating poverty are inextricably linked."

By Jane Kettle


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