JUST a month ago it was considered really good news when another eight Irrawaddy dolphins were found at Chilika Lake in India bringing the total number to 146. The lake is considered a principle habitat for this rare species of freshwater dolphin with the world population estimated at just 900.
Much of the global conservation focus has been on populations of less than 50 individuals classified as ‘Critically Endangered’ by the World Conservation Union in places like the Mekong River and working with local fishing communities to reduce fishing pressure.
But now a New York-based conservation group, the Wildlife Conservation Society, has discovered a population of about 6,000 Irrawaddy dolphins – that’s right six thousand – in the Sundarbans mangrove forest area of Bangladesh.
What good news!
Who could have imaged that there are in fact thousands of Irrawaddy dolphins alive and swimming in Bangladesh.
Some news stories are reporting that, according to conservationists, the newly discovered population is under thread from “climate change and fishing” and that the solution to saving this newly discovered population is to now “restrict fishing in the area to protect the dolphins.”
Even in the face of such new and potentially humbling good news, it seems the world’s conservationists are quick to promote old non-solutions.
I suggest given this new discovery, those involved with the worldwide Irrawaddy dolphin conservation effort consider reassessing their plans and what it known about the biology of this beautiful creature. A little humility can sometimes go a long way.
UPDATE April 3, 2009
The population of nearly 6,000 Irrawaddy dolphins was discovered in 2004. It made headlines around the world on 31st March and 1st April 2009, following the presentation of a paper at a conference in Hawaii. While the IUCN Red List has referenced this large Bangladeshi population for some time, many in the popular press and I have wrongly assumed the world’s population of Irrawaddy dolphins consisted entirely of small and isolated populations of less than 200 individuals.
Thanks to reader Andrew for setting me straight.
Wildlife Conservation Society
Thousands of rare Irrawaddy dolphins found along Bangladesh coast
Photograph from Isabel Beasley.