Ganges River Dolphin
The Ministry of Environment and Forests notified the Ganges River Dolphin as the National Aquatic Animal on 18th May 2010. The River Dolphin inhabits the Ganges Brahmaputra-Meghna and Karnaphuli-Sangu river systems of Nepal, India, and Bangladesh. It is estimated that their total population is around 2,000, and they are recognized as ‘highly endangered’ in Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act (1972).
Announcing this, then Minister for Environment and Forests, Jairam Ramesh, said that “by giving the sub-species the National Aquatic Animal status, we hope to raise public awareness and support, especially among the younger generation, for its conservation and protection”.
The Ganges Dolphin is among the four “obligate” freshwater dolphins found in the world – the other three are the ‘baiji’ found in the Yangtze River (China), the ‘bhulan’ of the Indus (Pakistan) and the ‘boto’ of the Amazon River (Latin America). Although there are several species of marine dolphins whose ranges include some freshwater habitats, these four species live only in rivers and lakes.
The Chinese River Dolphin was declared functionally extinct by a team of international scientists in 2006. In India, the Ganges River Dolphin is threatened by river water pollution and siltation, accidental entanglement in fishing nets, and poaching for their oil. In addition, alterations to the rivers in the form of barrages and dams are separatin populations. Various organizations, including the WWF-India in Uttar Pradesh, have
initiated programs for conservation and re-introduction of the River Dolphin.
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.
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.