Despite facing threats such as industrial waste, sewage, illegal fishing and the addition of poisonous chemical to the water, the population of the Indus blind dolphin is said to be increasing in the River Indus.
According to the last survey done in 2011, the number of blind dolphins inhabiting the river between the Chashma and Kotri barrages was 1,505.
The Indus dolphin is a rare species of freshwater river dolphins found in the River Indus. According to experts, this sightless mammal uses echolocation, or biological sonar, for navigation and to hunt for food.
Imran Malik, the World Wildlife Fund’s senior project officer in Sukkur, told The Express Tribune that during the super-flood of 2010, most of the blind dolphin population was washed away towards the Kotri Barrage. He added that the life of these dolphins is endangered when it slips into an offshoot of the barrage – something they often do in search of food during the annual closure of the canals every January. “A couple of years ago, fishermen added poisonous chemicals to the river after the floods subsided, causing extensive damage to the marine life, especially the blind dolphin,” Malik explained. “After that, the WWF collaborated with the provincial wildlife and fisheries departments to launch an awareness campaign in this regard.”
According to Malik, there are 1,452 blind dolphins in the River Indus, out of which 96 were recorded between the Chashma and Taunsa barrages, 465 between the Taunsa and Guddu barrages, 857 between the Guddu and Sukkur barrages and 34 between the Sukkur and Kotri barrages. He added that only two dolphins were found between the Jinnah and Chashma barrages in the 2001 survey, so no survey was conducted here in 2011.
“Hot water released from the Guddu thermal power station, industrial waste released by factories in Ghotki district and Sukkur, the release of sewage by residents on the riverbanks and the addition of chemicals for fishing are the main threats faced by the dolphin here,” said Taj Mohammad Shaikh, the deputy conservator of the wildlife department in Sukkur. “The range between the Guddu and Sukkur barrages has been declared a protective area to shield the rare mammal.”
Shaikh claimed that the continuous awareness campaign had helped people learn about the importance of marine life, adding that no incidents of adding poisonous chemicals in the river or canals had been reported in the last two to three years.
“We don’t have modern techniques to count the dolphins, so a 10 per cent variance is acceptable; the WWF has also accepted the results of the wildlife department’s survey,” said Mir Akhtar Talpur, the in-charge of the Indus Dolphin Conservation Centre in Sukkur, explaining the difference between the WWF survey and the wildlife department survey.
According to Talpur, the blind dolphin has a lifespan of up to 30 years, reaching adolescence around the age of 7. Its breeding season lasts from April to June, he went on, and it carries its calf in the womb for nine to 10 months. The mother feeds the calf for three months, after which it starts hunting for food on its own, he said. He claimed that the biggest Indus dolphin rescued so far measured eight feet and two inches, weighing more than 100 kilograms.
“The policy of issuing fishing licences for a mere Rs110 for the entire year should be reviewed, because it is damaging marine life,” he believed. “When fishermen poison the water, it not only harms the larger fish such as the dolphins, but also kills juvenile fish and damages biodiversity.” He stressed the need to work together to save rare species from extinction.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 20th, 2014.