“Pakistan’s National Aquatic animal, on the verge of extinction?”
There are only four river dolphin species in the world that spend all of their lives in freshwater. Indus river dolphins are one of them. It is the second most endangered freshwater dolphin species of the world. It is said that the Ancient Tethys Sea is the origin of these species but around 50 million years ago when the sea dried up, the dolphins were forced to adapt to rivers. Today only 1800 species exist in the lower parts of the River Indus between Chashma and Kotri barrages in Pakistan. These are locally known as ‘bhulan’.
Some important facts about Indus river dolphins:
This dolphin is commonly known as Indus Blind Dolphin as its eyes haven’t developed a lens and it depends on echolocation to find shrimp, fish and its other prey. Scientific name of this fish is ‘Platanista gangetica minor’. Maximum length of the dolphin is 2.5 m. Males are usually smaller than females. They weigh around 70-110 kg. Characteristics of these dolphins include long beak, rounded belly, small dorsal fin, fat body and huge flippers. It swims on the sides and can move in water as shallow as 30 cm but have to swim to the surface in order to breathe after 30 to 60 seconds.
Threats to the Indus water dolphin:
One of the most important threat to the dolphin is the water pollution. The untreated trash and junks from the industrial areas and communities goes directly into the river. This affects the food supply of the dolphins.
Another reason is the construction of dams and barrages. Dolphins are unable to move upstream due to powerful water currents. Barrages split their population in small groups which cause decline in their number.
Fishermen set fishing nets for many hours and often dolphins get trapped in nets.
Due to the extension of irrigation canals in the river, the dolphin goes to the canal and dies without being rescued.
What is the Government doing?
A 200 km stretch of the river Indus between Guddu and Sukkur barrages were designated by the Government of Sindh in 1974 as the Indus Dolphin Reserve, which is a legally protected area with the largest number of Indus river dolphin.
What about the other Non-Governmental Organizations?
Organizations like WWF-Pakistan are trying hard to protect and conserve the Indus river dolphin through a community based conservation approach. They are also conducting scientific researches and creating awareness regarding the importance and role of such aquatic species.