Officials said the 33 Ganges River Dolphins found during the survey included three calves and claimed that it indicated that the slow -breeding dolphins have flourished on the stretch and also indicates positive river health and biodiversity.

ganges river dolphin
A Ganges River Dolphin Credit: Ravindra Kumar Sinha

The World Wide Fund for Nature-India (WWF-India) along with the Uttar Pradesh forest department recently held a survey of Ganges River Dolphins and found that the dolphin population has increased from 22 in 2015 to 33 in 2018. The survey was conducted from October 10-15 over a stretch of nearly 200km (125miles), spanning Bijnor barrage to Narora barrage along the river.

“The major dolphin population is found beyond Allahabad, Varanasi and Balia districts, besides a small population found between the two barrages in western UP. In the survey, we found 30 adults and three calves. This is an encouraging sign as dolphins are slow breeders but their population is increasing as they find sustainable environments and habitat,” Sanjeev Yadav, senior coordinator from WWF-India, said.ganges river dolphin

“These dolphins breed every two or three years. Finding three calves amongst a small population is encouraging. A normal dolphin here has a length of 1-1.5 metre. The two barrages are close and it is one of the pristine habitats and is rich in biodiversity,” he added.

Threats

As is frequently the case in the world of dolphins, the greatest threat to this species are humans who, looking for their meat and oil, have hunted them for many years putting them close to extinction.
According to the Red List Of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), this subspecies has a conservation status of endangered.

These dolphins do not have many predators in their habitat, so most of their threats are anthropogenic like:

– Dam construction.
These structures separate different populations of the same species which reduces the genetic diversity and the amount of mature individual available to mate.

– Bycatch.
They are sometimes trapped or entangled in fishing nets and other devices which are not intended to hunt these cetaceans.

– Pollution.
The contamination of the Ganges river comes from chemicals, garbage, residual waters and industry spills.

Raising awareness to better conserve the specie

“We have ‘water schools’ run by WWF-India, to help sustain dolphins, and sensitise village residents. They now regard dolphins as a part of their ecosystem,” Lalit Verma, conservator of forests (Meerut), UP forest department, said.

Under the concept of ‘water schools,’ agencies have identified nearly 70 schools near the stretch and are sensitising students about the environment, biodiversity and the need to conserve the species.

Habitat of the South Asian River Dolphin
Blue: Habitat of the South Asian River Dolphin

The Ganges River Dolphin is also flagged as the ‘Tiger of the Ganges’, and is considered the mascot of a healthy aquatic environment and acts as an indicator species. According to officials, they are found in the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna and Karnaphuli-Sangu river systems of India, Nepal, and Bangladesh. Recent population estimates in its entire distribution range recorded around 2,000 individuals. Out of this, more than 80% are within Indian territory.

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