Despite the declaration of the Gangetic dolphin as India’s national aquatic animal 13 years ago, its population continues to decline due to various anthropogenic threats. The past year has been particularly devastating for these endangered freshwater mammals, with at least 10 documented cases of unnatural and mysterious deaths.
A report by the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP) revealed that India lost an additional 10 Ganges river dolphins last year, indicating a continued decline in their population. The deaths were attributed to various unnatural causes, highlighting the threats facing this endangered species.
These deaths were attributed to various unnatural causes, including electrocution from illegal fishing practices, poisoning from industrial waste, and accidental entanglement in fishing nets.
These deaths are a grim reminder of the threats these iconic creatures face. Ganges river dolphins are already considered one of the rarest freshwater mammals in the world, and their numbers have been declining for decades due to habitat loss, pollution, and human activities such as damming, mining and sand.
In Uttar Pradesh
- November 1, 2022: The carcass of a gangetic dolphin was found at gate number 01 of the Girija dam. The autopsy report showed the dolphin was a 1.97-meter-long female dolphin about 10 years old, and had suffocated to death after a catfish got stuck in her throat.
November 21, 2022: A carcass of a gangetic dolphin was found near the gate number 3 of the Chaudhary Charan Singh Girija dam at the Katarnia ghat wildlife sanctuary in Bahraich district. The dolphin became trapped in shallow water and died of a heart attack according to the autopsy report.
- October 4, 2022: A gangetic dolphin was found dead in the Saryu channel near the village of Kot Mubarakpur in the Gilola area of Srawasti district. Villagers reported that the canal was full of running water overnight and gradually subsided in the morning.
- 21-January 2023: A large Gangetic dolphin got lost and entered the Sagra channel in the Lalganj area of neighboring Pratapgarh district. Villagers noticed the species on January 21 and informed the forestry department, after which it was rescued on January 22.
- In September 2022: the body of a dolphin with several injuries was discovered on the bank of the Ganges river in Nagwachia, Bhagalpur district.
- In January 2023: the carcass of a healthy-looking four-foot-long juvenile dolphin was found on the banks of the Ganges in Vaishali district.
- In April 29, 2023: The death of an adult female dolphin was reported near Kabirajpur in Nadia district. The 12-year-old dolphin was found dead after she became entangled in fishing gillnets.
- In March 2022: a dolphin died in the Ganges River in Kolkata after being struck by a motorized passenger boat on March 12.
- In September 2022: a dead Ganges dolphin was found in the shallows of the Dikrang River in Lakhimpur’s Bihpuria, with a deep cut mark on its back, suspected to have been caused by fishermen.
- In May 2022: a Ganges dolphin carcass was discovered floating in the Pahumara River in Barpeta district, and an autopsy suggested it died after becoming caught in a fishing net.
But Gangetic river dolphins in Assam decline
The Ganges river dolphin, which has the status of Assam’s national and state aquatic animal, is an endangered species under the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 and is classified as “endangered” by the International Union for the Nature Conservancy (IUCN).
While these dolphins once flourished in the Brahmaputra and its tributaries such as the Kulsi and Subansiri, the species is currently struggling. Despite several action plans formulated to revive the population, conservationist and journalist Mubina Akhtar told Mongabay-India that most of these plans did not produce the desired impact.
One such recovery program launched by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) in 2016 aimed to revive the Gangetic dolphin by regularly monitoring the population and identifying factors affecting the species and its habitat throughout its range, which included Assam. However, even after continued monitoring, threats to the existence of this species continue to pose a significant risk.
A report published by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) last year confirmed that the Brahmaputra river system remains an important stronghold for Ganges river dolphins, which are home to 30% of the world’s population.
Significant populations are also found on Kulsi and Subansiri. Dolphins in national parks like Kaziranga and Orang enjoy protection, and other dolphin hotspots in Brahmaputra are found at Sivasagar, Tezpur, Guwahati and Goalpara.
The Barak, another important river system in Assam, once supported a good population of dolphins. However, they may now be nearing local extinction, with only a handful found in tributaries such as the Kushiyara on the Bangladeshi border.
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