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Docile Dolphin

Updated: April 24, 2010 10:22 am

The Ganges river dolphin or Gangetic dolphin is a freshwater dolphin that is found primarily in the River Ganges. Known to fishermen for centuries and the subject of myth and legend, the Ganges River Dolphin falls in the category of endangered species.

            The Ganges river dolphin can be seen in several rivers of South Asia. There are two subspecies of the Ganges river Dolphin-one which is found in the Indus River and the other in river systems of North India. It is estimated that there are around 2000 Ganges river dolphins in the rivers of the Indian subcontinent.

           An extremely docile and graceful creature it is found in the Ganges, Brahmaputra, and Meghna river systems, extending from the foot of the Himalayas to the tidal zone in India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan.. Commonly known as Susu, the Ganges river dolphins are among the four freshwater dolphins found in the world and the other three are the Baiji found in the Yangtze river in China, the Bhulan of the Indus in Pakistan and the Buto of the river Amazon in Latin America.

            The Ganges river dolphin grows up to a length of 5 to 8 feet and can weight up to 90 kg. It has a long snout, big flippers and a stocky but streamlined body. Earlier it was believed to be blind, and reliant purely on echolocation. The recent research has, however affirmed that it has eyes, which provide some vision. The Ganges river dolphin is a good swimmer and maneuvers its way through the murky water with its tail and flippers. It prefers to stay in water with a temperature between 8o and 33o Celsius. Fish is the main part of its diet and it spends much of its time feeding near the riverbed. It uses echolocation to find its prey and also uses its flippers and snout to locate something edible in the muddy riverbed. Ganges river dolphins are an endangered species. They can be seen at the Vikramshila Ganges River Dolphin Sanctuary in Bihar.

            The presence of river dolphin in a river system is vital for a healthy ecosystem. Since the river dolphin is at the apex of the aquatic food chain, its presence in adequate numbers symbolises greater bio-diversity in the river system.

            But this marvellous aquatic species is on the verge of extinction, thanks to mankind’s lust for its meat and oil also what with the destruction of its habitat. The pollution of the Ganges River and the creation of barrages along the river course have led to the decline of Ganges river dolphins’ number.

            The Ganges river dolphin is in grave danger of extinction. Its population is declining rapidly at a rate of 10 per cent annually. The habitat of the dolphin is greatly affected by industrial and agricultural development. If present trends continue, there may be little time to save the vulnerable Ganges river dolphins. The Ganges river dolphin has been included in the Schedule-I of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. The high mortality rate of Ganges River dolphin in India is result of low political will, absence of grass-roots support for river dolphin conservation, absence of proper co-ordination among members and lack of conservation awareness among people. WWF-India initiated the Dolphin Conservation Programme in 1997. Through this programme,

            WWF-India is strengthening the ongoing efforts for the protection of Ganges river dolphins in the country, by new and innovative initiatives. The primary objective of these initiatives is to improve the status of the species in the long term.

By Sachin Kaushik

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