Registered on the list of endangered species, the dolphins of the Irrawaddy are victims of fishing. Their population has drastically declined in recent years.
Cambodia has taken a new step in greater defense of biodiversity. The country’s Prime Minister, Hun Sen, ordered the creation on January 2 of the Mekong of protection zones for dolphins threatened with extinction, after the death of three of these mammals caused by fishing lines and nets in December.
Listed as endangered, the Irrawaddy dolphins, known for their domed foreheads and short snouts, once swam across much of this river, but in recent decades their range has been restricted to a stretch of 190 km between the north-east of the Cambodian province of Kratie and the Laos border. Their population has been in steady decline since their first census in 1997, when 200 were counted compared to the current 90, a decline attributed to habitat loss and destructive fishing practices.
Three of these breeding-age animals died in a week last month, alarming conservationists, who have called for day and night patrols to protect the dolphins from illegal fishing.
11 deaths in 2022
During a ceremony in Kratie, Hun Sen ordered authorities to set up floating beacons around designated protection areas, in which there will be a “absolute prohibition” hurry. “The Mekong, home to dolphins and nearly extinct fish species, needs to be well managed so dolphins don’t die entangled in gillnets”, he said, referring to these nets stretched by fishermen on certain parts of the river to catch fish. And to add: “The areas reserved for dolphins must be completely protected”while specifying that the presence of these mammals contributed to local tourism.
Eleven of them died in 2022, bringing the total number of dolphins that have died in the past three years to 29, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). In a statement, WWF called on all relevant authorities to “promulgate and deploy appropriate measures to urgently deal with the mortality” caused by gillnets and electrofishing used in dolphin conservation areas.
Cambodia is home to the largest population of Irrawaddy dolphins, which are also found in rivers and lakes in Burma, Indonesia, India and Thailand.