At least 10 blind Indus River dolphins, an endangered species colloquially called andhi bulhan, have been sighted in the canals of the Sukkur and Guddu barrages. Reports of the stranded dolphins surfaced as early as 10 days ago but a rescue operation is yet to be initiated because of the rapid water flow.
Officials claim that the stranded mammals are not in any imminent danger. Given the unprecedented sighting of the endangered species in various canals, the Sindh wildlife department (SWD) has issued an alert for their protection.
An extensive search operation was launched after four stranded blind Indus dolphins were spotted. Another six dolphins were sighted in different canals of the two barrages during the search operation.
According to an official SWD communiqué, four dolphins were sighted in the Rohri Canal, three in Khirthar Canal and one each in the Begari and Dadu canals.
"The sighting of 10 dolphins at various spots is new for us," said Sindh Chief Conservator Javed Ahmed Mahar, speaking to The Express Tribune. He assured that not a single one of these dolphins was in danger.
"Owing to the structure of the gates at irrigation canals, once the dolphin leaves its area, it cannot go back to the same place," explained Mahar.
Meanwhile, Sindh Irrigation Minister Jam Khan Shoro told The Express Tribune that his department has been directed to assist the wildlife officials in rescuing and protecting the mammals. "The water level will be reduced wherever needed."
The minister continued that his department's staff was alert and would provide all possible help during the rescue operation.
Similarly, Sukkur Deputy Conservator Adnan Khan said that SWD staff has been deployed at all the sites for the protection of the stranded dolphins. "[But] the flow of water is rapid," he said, adding that all possible measures are being taken to look after the stranded dolphins.
Though they are out of danger, they need to be brought back to their homes, said Mahar. "The rescue operation is challenging and risky."
He was unable to provide a timeline for when the rescue operation may commence. "With the help of the irrigation department, the situation is under control," he assured, however.
The Blind Indus dolphin is endemic to the Indus River system. A survey conducted in 2019 concluded that the total population of dolphins in canals between Guddu and Sukkur Barrages was 1,419 at the time.
Decades of unregulated fishing practices and habitat loss caused by pollution and man-made dams saw the dolphin population plummet to around 1,200 at the turn of the century. They mammals are classified as an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which says their numbers have fallen by more than 50 per cent since the 1940s.
In a bid to turn around the fortunes of the mammals, wildlife officials have in the past launched door-to-door awareness campaigns with the local fishing community on the riverbanks and arterial canals.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 21st, 2021.
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