Dolphins: Harbingers of Chilka’s rejuvenation

The presence of shy Irrawaddy Dolphins is a symbol that all is well with the Chilika lagoon. A recently concluded census shows that dolphin numbers are up to 158 from 146.

Dolphins in Chilika Lake

The picture is very different from 2002 when there were only 80 dolphins and 9 were killed after being hit by boat propellers.

The credit for the turn around goes to the awareness campaign by the Chilika Development authority to protect the dolphin and conserve the lagoon.

Tourist numbers in the area have also increased. One of the tourists finds dolphins the greatest attraction in Chilika, and he comes back each year to watch them.

Until 3 years ago hundreds of local fishermen who live close to the sea mouth had turned migrant labourer after their fish catch fell very sharply. But not any longer as dolphins have given them a reason to celebrate.

“Eco-tourism has come as a huge blessing and revived our economy. We worship the birds, dolphins and the lake for taking care of our prosperity,” said Hiranya Jena, Sipakuda.

Like the tiger in the forest it’s the Dolphin which is at the apex of the food chain here and the fact that their number is rising indicates a definite improvement in the eco-health of the Chilika lagoon.

The sprawling 1000 sq km Chilika lagoon was a dying wetland until 10 years ago but it was Chilika Development Agency’s decision to open this artificial new sea mouth, the Ram Bharatia Channel, which has made a huge difference to the wetland and given it fresh lease of life .

Ajit K Patnaik, Chief Executive, Chilika Development Agency said that it’s a win win situation for both conservationists and local people. He added that many indicators of the growing health like dolphins, shore birds and sea grass and tourism as an alternative livelihood has reduced pressures on the lake fishery.

While there are plenty of reasons to cheer about a rejuvenated Chilika, there is also a great need to regulate and monitor human activities and interventions.


At Sangam, WWF plans to come up with dolphin sanctuary

After its ‘Save Tiger’ campaign for protecting the Big Cat in India, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is now channeling its resources to protect the Gangetic Dolphin — another endangered species in the country.

The Sangam in Allahabad would soon be declared as an international tourist spot as the WWF, the world’s leading organisation for wild conservation, plans to assist the Indian government in developing a world-class Dolphin sanctuary at Sangam.

“A team of six WWF members headed by Sandeep Behna, in-charge of Indian Dolphin, surveyed the entire Ganga stretch in this region up to Mirzapur. The survey found an abundance of Indian dolphins in the region with their number being around 300,” said District Forest Officer S N Mishra.    

The WWF team stayed in Allahabad for five days and surveyed stretches across river Ganga, Yamuna and other tributaries in Fatehpur, Kaushambi, Allahabad, Pratapgarh and Mirzapur areas, said a team member, adding they would soon submit a report to the WWF committee.

“If the Centre gives its nod to the WWF proposal for partnership in conservation of dolphins, the organisation will soon start work for the conservation, promotion and protection of dolphins besides developing Sangam as a world-class dolphin sanctuary,” said the team member.

The Forest department, in association with the district administration, would now make a fresh project for the dolphin sanctuary at Sangam in light of the WWF survey report.

After being sent to the state government, the proposal would be forwarded to the Union Ministry of Forest and Environment for approval, said District Magistrate Sanjay Prashad.

It was in September that the state government had sent a Rs-60 crore proposal to the Centre for the proposed dolphin sanctuary in Sangam. The proposal, however, is still pending with the Union Ministry of Forest and Environment, which had recently declared the dolphin as the National Aquatic Animal.

According to the report of the Forest department as well as the WWF survey, dolphins inhabit a particular area falling between Sangam and Sirsa. It’s a 20-km stretch from south east of Sangam up to Sirsa.

The Gangetic Dolphin is found mostly in Bihar — between Patna and Bhagalpur. Environmentalists have for long raised concerns on their dwindling numbers. There are only 2,000 dolphins in South Asia, it is learnt.


WWF-India: Dolphins choose UP waters to multiply

Uttar Pradesh has proved to be the most favourable habitat for the national aquatic animal. According to a recent population estimate of the Gangetic Dolphins, by the World Wide Fund for Nature India (WWF-India), UP is the only state where the dolphin population has increased since 2005.

Ganges River Dophin - Scientific Name: Platanista gangetica - Copy Right François Xavier PELLETIER - WWF-Canon

The Gangetic Dolphin or Platinista Gangetica was declared the national aquatic animal in October. Sandeep Behera, coordinator, freshwater species, WWF-India, said according to initial estimates 547 dolphins are reported in UP. The earlier figure, he said, stood at 500. He, however, added that the survey in the state is in progress and certain areas are yet to be covered.

“On the Union government’s directions we started with the process of formulation of an action plan for conservation of dolphins across the country. As the first step we are surveying the dolphin population in various states to ascertain the exact figure. From our survey so far, we can easily say that UP is the only state where the number of dolphins in some stretches has increased,” said Sandeep Behera, coordinator, freshwater species, WWF-India.

From Indian Express

Surat: Walk with sharks & dolphins

SURAT: The thrill of navigating through a see-through tunnel on a travelator with sharks, dolphins and other fish hovering over you will be a reality for Surtis and people of Gujarat, most of whom have seen this sight in places like Singapore.

A marine tunnel aquarium is what Surat Municipal Corporation (SMC) has planned and with all ground work having been done for the first of its kind in the country, the tunnel is likely to come up here in 18 to 24 months time. “We are looking at the possibility of a 66 or 100 metre long snake shaped tunnel,” said Mukesh Dalal, chairman, SMC standing committee.

“Central Marine Fish Research Institute (CMFRI), Kochi, has been appointed as consultant for the project and they have submitted the draft bids to SMC,” he added.

“All presentations are ready as conceptual permission is obtained from competent authority but the allotment of the fund would be done in the coming year’s budget,” said mayor Ranjit Gilitwala.

Estimated cost of the project is Rs 15 crore and could go up if SMC opts for a longer tunnel, said DC Gandhi, in-charge engineer and garden cell project chief of SMC.

SMC already has 25,722 sq mt space at Jagdishchandra Bose Udyan in Adajan where first phase of the proposed aquarium project is coming up. To be made up of imported acrylic sheets, the tunnel would be 4 metre broad.

“Bids for this would be invited from abroad as no one does this in India. Also the size of the tunnel is yet to be decided and would depend on the cost factor and geographical conditions,” said Dalal. “We saw such an aquarium in Singapore and were inspired by it,” said Gilitwala.

In the first phase, a shark pool will be constructed. It will be about 18 to 20 feet high, 40 feet long and 30 feet wide, said S Aparna, municipal commissioner.

From TOI

WWF-India applauds the declaration of the Gangetic River Dolphin as India’s National Aquatic Animal

The docile and graceful river dolphin is now India’s National Aquatic Animal. On Monday, 5th of October , the Central Government declared this endangered species as India’s National Aquatic Animal according it equal status with the Peacock, India’s National Bird and the Tiger, India’s National Animal. The Ganges River Dolphin is an endemic species of the Ganges, Brahmapura and Meghna River systems, extending from the foot of the Himalayas to the tidal zone in India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan.

The Central Government also announced a Rs. 15,000 crore plan for cleaning up the Ganges over a span of ten years. Speaking on the occasion Environment and Forests Minister, Jairam Ramesh said ‘ increasing the number of of dolphins in the Ganges would be the ‘One and Only Yardstick’ to gauge the success of the 15,000 crore ‘ Mission Clean Ganga’ project as dolphins do not respond to captive breeding. The presence of dolphins in a river is symbolic of a healthy eco-system.

The Ganges River Dolphin, Platanista gangetica, prefers deep waters, in and around the confluence of two or more rivers. It has a sturdy, yet flexible, body and weighs upto 150 kg. These dolphins are generally blind and catch their prey in a unique manner. They emit an ultrasonic sound which reaches the prey. The dolphin then registers this image in its mind and subsequently catches hold of its prey.

Once present in tens of thousands of numbers, the Ganges River Dolphin has dwindled abysmally to less than 2000 during the last century owing to direct killing, habitat fragmentation by dams and barrages, indiscriminate fishing and pollution of the rivers.

WWF-India adopted Ganges River Dolphin as a species of special concern. A Ganges River Dolphin Conservation Programme was initiated in 1997 to build a scientific database of the population status of the species and study the habitat quality of the dolphin’s distribution range.

WWF-India has been working closely with various government departments, specially the State Forest Department ,local NGOs, scientists, researchers and universities to ensure the implementation of the action plan through capacity building and carry out conservation awareness and education activities. A River Watch Programme has been initiated to identify hot spots and develop management plans with the help of the Forest Department and create awareness in target areas.

WWF-India has also tied up with the University of Tokyo and the Indian Institute of Technology to develop new insights into the behaviour of the dolphins. This partnership is utilizing a unique technology through which precise underwater movements and sonar-range of dolphins can be observed even in shallow water. An acoustic data logger system has also been demonstrated that can count the number of dolphins.The result findings will help sharpen and increase the scope of WWF-India’s already well established River Dolphin programme.

The announcement of Gangetic River Dolphins as India’s National Aquatic Animal is an achievement for the many conservation organizations alongwith WWF-India, who working to protect the river dolphin. From 1996 to the present, the population of river dolphins in the 165 kilometers strech of the Ganges between Brijghat and Narora has more than doubled largely due to these efforts. The organization hopes that national recognition of the threat that the dolphin faces along side sincere efforts to safeguard their habitat will save this species from extinction.