Vang Vieng, Lao PDR

The last 92 Irrawaddy dolphins in Mekong River may not survive

An Irrawaddy dolphin, also known as the Mekong dolphin, swims in the river at Kampi village in Kratie province, 230 km (143 miles) northeast of Cambodia.
Photo: Chor Sokunthea/Reuters

Experts are concerned that the Mekong dolphin is unlikely to survive Cambodia’s modernisation as a new dam is planned.

At the dolphin ticket office, there is a tattered page stuck to the wall calling on readers to save dolphins as part of “Cambodia’s splendid natural heritage”.

It says, “building dams destroy habitats” and lists threats to dolphins, including pollutions and gillnets. It looks like an insect-eaten papyrus.

The Irrawaddy dolphin is a critically endangered species. The largest of the five remaining population groups live here, in a stretch of the Mekong River near Kratie (pronounced Krah-che) in northeast Cambodia.

The government and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) estimate there are currently 92 dolphins nearby – a slight uptick in the steady decline since 200 were counted in 1997.

They surface like submarines as the sun sets, turning the sky blood red and gold. They expel water from their blowholes, sounding like disgruntled horses.

On the bank, Sey Inn clasps his hands behind his back, watching the scene. He was born in Kratie in 1945.

“There were one or two thousand dolphins when I was young,” he says. “The bombing during the [Vietnam] war killed a lot. And the heavy fishing.”

There are no estimates of the number of dolphins killed during the war.

US forces thought Vietcong supplies were travelling via the northern Mekong and unloaded “2.7 million tonnes of explosives between 1964 and 1975”, according to a study on the “demographic collapse” of the dolphins by the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology.

It wasn’t just the impact that would have killed them. A 2014 paper by Dr Isabel Beasley says “toothed whales (ie dolphins) have extremely sensitive hearing, and a complex sonar system used for foraging, navigating and communicating.”

The “audio trauma” from the explosions may cause death and the “interruption of feeding, breeding [and] nursing”.

Noisy disturbances continue today as tourist boats congest the surface of the river where the Kratie population feed.

Read the full article at Al Jazeera:


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