Archive for August 22nd, 2011

August 22, 2011

Sacred Dolphin Nearly Extinct


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(IRRAWADDY DOLPHINS) SOUTHEAST ASIA — With only 85 individuals remaining in one of three existing populations, the Irrawaddy dolphin is nearly extinct. The dolphin, considered sacred in Cambodia and Laos, is in need of joint conservation efforts between these countries in order to revive the species. With the combined threat of gill net entanglement and high calf mortality rates, it is important that the two countries come to an agreement and do so as soon as possible. Read on for more information. — Global Animal

Discovery News, Jennifer Viegas

The Irrawaddy dolphin is in need of immediate help. Photo credit: Symbiosis Custom Travel

The Irrawaddy dolphin, considered sacred to many people in Cambodia and Laos, has declined to just 85 individuals in Southeast Asia’s Mekong River, according to a World Wildlife Fund assessment. Leading researchers now conclude that the population is at high risk of dying out altogether.

“This low number, combined with very low calf survival rates, means that these dolphins are frighteningly close to extinction,” WWF spokesperson Caroline Behringer told Discovery News.

Li Lifeng, director of WWF’s Freshwater Program, echoed the concern about calves in a press release statement.

He said, “Evidence is strong that very few young animals survive to adulthood, as older dolphins die off and are not replaced.”

Li and his colleagues used a technique called “photographic mark-recapture” to count the dolphins. This involves identifying specific individual dolphins through unique markings on their dorsal fins. The method, adjusted to focus on other unique identifying features, has previously been used to estimate whale, tiger, horse, leopard and other animal populations.

Eighty-five is actually a higher amount than expected, but that’s likely just due to improved surveying efforts.

“With a larger dataset and recent analytical advances, previously unidentifiable dolphins which had few marks on their dorsal fins have been included,” Li explained.

Three populations of Irrawaddy dolphins exist: in the Mekong River, the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar, and the Mahakam River in Indonesia. This latest survey only covered the Mekong population, but all three populations are critically endangered. Gill net entanglement remains a constant threat.

“These dolphins are at high risk of extinction by their small population size alone,” said Barney Long, WWF’s Asian Species Expert. “With the added threats of gill net entanglement and high calf mortality, we are seriously concerned about their future.”

A secondary problem affects people in the areas where the dolphins live. Because these marine mammals are sacred, many locals and tourists want to see them. Lucrative dolphin and whale-watching ecotourism therefore thrives in the area, with many using it as their primary source of employment and income.

No dolphins would mean few associated ecotourist dollars.

Since one part of the dolphin population surveyed — numbering just seven or so individuals — is located on the Cambodia/Laos border of the river, conservation efforts must involve at least these two countries working together to protect the animals.

“Our best chance of saving these dolphins from extinction in the Mekong River is through joint conservation action,” said Rebecca Ng, head of WWF’s Mekong program. “WWF is committed to working with the Fisheries Administration, the Dolphin Commission, and communities all along the river to reverse the decline and ensure the survival of this beautiful species.”


August 22, 2011

WWF: Mekong dolphin population falling

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August 22, 2011, 2:32pm

PHNOM PENH (dpa) – The population of critically endangered Irrawaddy dolphins in the Mekong River is set to fall by 3 per cent per year unless the Cambodian government takes urgent action, environmental group WWF warned Wednesday.

Surveys conducted between 2007-10 indicated a decline in numbers to just 85, WWF said in a statement released in Geneva.

”Evidence is strong that very few young animals survive to adulthood, as older dolphins die off and are not replaced,” said Dr Li Lifeng, the director of the group’s Freshwater Programme.

Although the dolphins are protected, WWF called on Phnom Penh to do more, including establishing conservation zones and instituting a pending ban on gill nets.

Studies by a previous researcher in 2004-5 showed a population of over 115 individuals. The recent analysis projected a fall of 3 per cent per year over the next three years, if action is not taken.

WWF studies in 2007 estimated there were 71 of the mammals left, but Wednesday’s statement said the apparent rise since then was due to improved census methodology, not increasing numbers.

The Irrawaddy dolphins are ranked as critically endangered, the highest threat ranking, on the Red List compiled by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Most of the population live on a 190-kilometre stretch of the Mekong in north-eastern Cambodia.

”This tiny population is at high risk by its small size alone,” said Li. ”With the added pressures of gill net entanglement and high calf mortality we are really worried for the future of the dolphins.”

The dolphins are a key tourism drawcard for the remote north-east, and inhabit a stretch of water that runs north from the town of Kratie towards the Laos border.

The head of the government’s Commission for Mekong River Dolphin Conservation and Ecotourism Development, Dr Touch Seang Tana, disagreed with WWF’s figures.

”This number is really underestimated,” he said. ”I estimate that (the population) was between 155 and 175 at the end of 2010.”

He added that a dolphin-protected area would likely be in place by the end of the year, by which time gill nets would be barred on most of the stretch of river inhabited by the dolphins.

August 22, 2011

WWF calls for action to save Mekong dolphins

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Sunday, 21 August 2011


Conservation group WWF on Wednesday called for urgent action to prevent the extinction of freshwater dolphins in the Mekong River, including the creation of special conservation zones.

Entanglement in fishing nets, low calf survival rates and a steady degradation of the creature’s habitat are threatening the estimated 85 Irrawaddy dolphins left in Cambodia and Laos, WWF said.

“Evidence is strong that very few young animals survive to adulthood, as older dolphins die off and are not replaced,” Li Lifeng, director of WWF’s freshwater programme, said in a statement.

“This tiny population is at high risk by its small size alone. With the added pressures of gill net entanglement and high calf mortality we are really worried for the future of dolphins.”

The group urged the Cambodian government to consider a ban on gill nets.

But the Cambodian official tasked with caring for the country’s Irrawaddy dolphins criticised the group’s research methods and insisted there remained “about 155 to 175” of the animals in the Mekong.

“WWF does not do proper scientific research. I do not know what kind of methodology they are using,” Touch Seang Tana, chairman of Cambodia’s Commission to Conserve Mekong River Dolphins and Develop Eco-tourism, told AFP.

He added that according to his findings, dolphin numbers were slowly improving. “Last year, we had 12 newborns,” he said.

The government and WWF clashed over the same issue in 2009, when WWF estimated there were just 64 to 76 Irrawaddy dolphins left in the river, partly because of pollution and illegal fishing methods.

The group said its current estimate of 85 dolphins was higher because of better monitoring techniques, not because the population had increased.

It also said more research was needed to explain the calf deaths.

“We’re still unsure, however it may be related to environmental factors such as contamination, or physiological issues in the small population. There is no evidence that low calf survival is due to fishing,” Li told AFP.

The Mekong River Irrawaddy dolphin, which inhabits a 190-kilometre (118-mile) stretch in Cambodia and Laos, has been listed as critically endangered since 2004, the WWF said.

Irrawaddy dolphins are also found in coastal areas in south and southeast Asia, in the Irrawaddy river in Myanmar and in the Mahakam river in Indonesia, it added.

In recent years, the Cambodian government has been promoting dolphin-watching to attract eco-tourism and has cracked down on the use of illegal nets.

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