They are unique, they are cute, but pollution, over-fishing and killing them for their highly priced oil has left just a handful of them alive
T he sight of dolphins in the Ganges was a major thrill for children and adults alike. People used to spend hours standing near the river to catch a glimpse of these graceful and athletic mammals jumping out of the river, taking a leap and then, like an Olympic diver, ‘silking’ its way back into the river. That was there way of catching the breath. For despite being an aquatic animal, they cannot breathe under water.
Dolphins are among the oldest residents of the earth, along with some species of crocodiles and turtles. The Ganges Dolphin is unique, and was first discovered in 1801. It is blind, and navigates and catches its prey using sharp whistling sound that rebounds from the fishes. The dolphin is the apex of the riverine food chain, so its presence in adequate numbers indicates that the water system is in good health, but unfortunately, there are not enough Ganges Dolphins left today. At one time their estimated population was around 4,000 to 5,000. Now it is between just 1,200 to 1,500 individuals.
That just reiterates something we know for a long time now: the Ganges is heavily polluted. Not just that, large scale fishing in the Ganges using massive nets is causing them accidental deaths, when they get entangled in them, simply because their whistles do not rebound from the nets as they do from fish. Pollution load of toxic chemicals, sewage and industrial effluents have killed dolphins directly. Besides, these pollutants have vastly reduced fish populations, so dolphins do not have enough food. Besides, it is also being hunted for its oil, which is used both as a fish attractant and for medical purposes. The Ganges Dolphin is under an all
Prof Ravindra Sinha, a resident of Patna, has grown up watching these dolphins in the Ganges. But sometime back, unable to stay a mute spectator of their misery, Sinha decided to do something about Ganges and its dolphins.
Sinha soon realised that the first priority was to make people aware of the danger that surrounds these dolphins. So he and his six-member team established the Dolphin Foundation, and went to meet villagers and fisherfolk and explained things.
It was a lot of trouble in the beginning. “No ferrymen agreed to sail for researches in the beginning. We had to conduct the surveys standing ashore. Often, we encountered criminals who tried to rob us but mostly let us leave unharmed when we explained our mission. In one of these encounters, a criminal almost shot me, but changed their mind at the last moment to just rob us.”
It was only the efforts of Prof Sinha that led the government in 2009 to declare Ganges Dolphin, the national aquatic animal. Sinha agreed that the government is working towards the cause. He urged the country of taking concrete steps just like we did to save the tigers.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has also initiated several moves to save Ganges Dolphins. Apart from generating public awareness, WWF especially stressed on developing the forests along the river banks and ban fishing in these rivers. A holistic approach is needed for Ganges Dolphin’s conservation.
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