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Irrawaddy Dolphins: Freshwater Species of the Week

Photo: Irrawaddy dolphin
A rare Irrawaddy dolphin spotted in Indonesian waters. David Dove / WWF Greater Mekong

 

This is the first post in a new series that celebrates the extraordinary diversity of freshwater ecosystems around the world. Every Friday, we’ll present a new species, and examine what each can teach us about the importance of preserving, and in some cases restoring, freshwater habitats.

This week, we take a look at the Irrawaddy dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris), a rare species of freshwater dolphin that is highly vulnerable to extinction due to pollution, dams, and diversions in the rivers it calls home.

This week, the World Wildlife Fund reported that Irrawaddy dolphins have been seen for the first time in West Kalimantan, on the Indonesian island Borneo. WWF-Indonesia and the Regional Office for Marine, Coastal & Resources Management Pontianak  (BPSPL) saw the freshwater cetaceans while conducting a study in the narrow straits and coastal waters of the Kubu Raya and Kayong Utara regencies in the western part of Borneo.

Albertus Tjiu, WWF-Indonesia’s Conservation Biologist, said, “The results of this study indicate the importance of protecting the dolphins’ habitat, from the origins of the rivers in the Heart of Borneo, to the lower rivers of the island, including waterways of Batu Ampar mangroves and nypah forests, the narrow straits and the coastal areas of Kubu Raya, West Kalimantan.”

The scientists also saw Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins in the area.

Tjiu warns that the area is seeing increasing charcoal production, threatening the flooded mangrove forests that serve as key habitat to the Irrawaddy dolphin. WWF is calling on producers to avoid deforesting sensitive areas.

According to WWF, there are about 6,000 Irrawaddy dolphins left in the wild, with about 5,800 of them living in Bangladesh. The remainder are scattered throughout Southeast Asia. The species is officially listed as “vulnerable” by the IUCN, although it is listed as critically endangered locally in some areas, including the Mekong River, the Ayeyawardi River, and the Mahakam River in East Kalimantan.

Intelligent and playful, river dolphins are charismatic animals. But they are unlikely to survive in large numbers unless countries get serious about protecting and restoring river habitats.

 

Brian Clark Howard is a writer and editor with NationalGeographic.com. He was formerly an editor at The Daily Green and E/The Environmental Magazine and has contributed to many publications, including TheAtlantic.com, FastCompany.com, MailOnline.com, PopularMechanics.com, Yahoo!, MSN and elsewhere. His latest book, with Kevin Shea, is Build Your Own Small Wind Power System.

Comments

  1. [...] Related: Irrawaddy river dolphins. [...]

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  3. Thadoe Wai
    Yangon, Myanmar
    March 4, 2012, 10:02 pm

    These gentle beings of nature are just marvelous. If I may add as being a native of Myanmar, I cannot believe why, whether unintentional or deliberate, that the namesake of the dolphin, the Irrawaddy river, would be switched to the name that we call in our language (Ayeyarwaddi) as such to be different.

  4. uwe bahr
    australia
    March 4, 2012, 9:11 pm

    we man kind are the crules animal on this planet we take and take and kill every thing we have no respect for other creatures

  5. Absolutely Eco - Friendly
    Florida, U.S.A.
    February 23, 2012, 11:54 pm

    I am of the belief that any effort necessary to safe a species is worth taking it. If what it takes is to restore the rivers ecosystems we must do it and if what it takes is to protect them ,,simple lets do that, period. We must stop avoiding the job that it has to be done.

  6. njgbhy
    Denver, Colarado
    February 18, 2012, 2:20 pm

    poor dolphins, they could be extinct in the next decade

  7. G. Patey
    kingston. Ca
    February 16, 2012, 11:06 pm

    Given all the horrible things humans have done – this Irrawaddy dolphin should not be existing. Sorry, tired of both sides of the arguement when it comes to how this planet should be managed.

  8. Arnaub
    ranchi
    February 16, 2012, 7:55 am

    Great work Brian ,I have also seen these lovely creatures recently in the waters of chilka in Orissa (India).

  9. glitters inflash
    glitters inflash
    February 15, 2012, 2:27 am

    Thank goodness some bloggers can still write. Thanks for this writing…

  10. Florian.G
    France
    February 11, 2012, 6:06 am

    Some dogs do not like when we approach their noses, this is a provocative gesture for him

  11. Cheryl Dodd
    Queensland Australia
    February 10, 2012, 7:40 pm

    Watched a documentary on the Amazon where rare dolphins classed us Mythical Creatures live in the Amazon River, wondering if the Santarem Factory illegally set up on the river for the questionable soya crop bean export that is not only ruining the lives of the people who live in the Amazon Forest but is also threatening the number or marine life there?