Blind Dolphin numbers on the rise, says WWF

Survey unveils the highest number of the species was found between Guddu and Sukkur barrages in Sindh


Our Correspondent December 13, 2017

LAHORE: There has been a significant increase in the population of the dolphin species since 2001. This was unveiled in WWF-Pakistan’s preliminary results of its Indus River Dolphin survey. The report was titled ‘Signs of Hope for the Endemic and Endangered Bhulan’.

The Indus River Dolphin (Platanista gangetica minor) or Indus Blind Dolphin is an obligate freshwater cetacean and a global priority species of WWF.

It is endemic to the Indus River system in Pakistan and is listed as endangered in the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species due to an 80% decline in its habitat range. The habitat has shrunk due to the construction of barrages along the river, which has divided the population into five sub-populations, as well as water pollution. The animals also risk being stranded in irrigation canals and accidentally getting caught in fishing nets.

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The study is compiled through the fourth comprehensive Indus River Dolphin Survey, which took place from March 20 to April 13, 2017, covered the Indus River dolphin distribution range from Chashma to Sukkur barrages.

A team of 20 members from WWF-Pakistan, Zoological Survey of Pakistan, academic researchers, provincial Wildlife Department of Sindh, Punjab, and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, travelled in four boats, carrying research equipment, food, camping gear and drinking water. The survey, which is conducted every five years, reveals that the number of the dolphins has increased.

The Indus dolphin, locally known as the bhulan, was observed throughout the 808 km stretch of the Indus River main channel which was surveyed during the current study. The total number of dolphins was 1,816, with 170 dolphins between Chashma and Taunsa barrages sub-population, 571 dolphins between Taunsa and Guddu barrages sub-population and lastly 1,075 dolphins between Guddu and Sukkur barrages sub-population.

The dolphin encounter rate was higher downstream of the Indus River with the highest population observed between Guddu and Sukkur barrages in Sindh.

WWF-Pakistan Director General Hammad Naqi Khan said, “These surveys provide credible data on the status of the Indus River dolphin population so that conservation actions and adaptive management of this species may be developed accordingly.”

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The results prove that the Indus River dolphin is slowly recovering and show what can be achieved when the government, communities, and conservationists work together.

“While celebrating this success, we must also remember that the Indus dolphin still faces a host of threats from habitat loss due to being stranded in irrigation canals and entanglement in fishing nets.”

Member International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Dr Gillian T Braulik said that a dolphin conservation expert provided the survey team with initial technical assistance based on her expertise of leading previous dolphin surveys.

“It is clear from the four surveys that have been conducted in Pakistan that this endangered species is increasing in number,” she said. “At a time where so many endangered species are disappearing, and so many other river dolphins are declining, this is incredibly positive news and Pakistan can be proud,” she concluded.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 13th, 2017.

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