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February 27, 2018

Electrocution suspected in death of endangered dolphin in Ayeyawady

Volunteers remove the carcass of dolphin from the Ayeyawady River. Photo: Supplied by WCS (Myanmar)
Volunteers remove the carcass of dolphin from the Ayeyawady River. Photo: Supplied by WCS (Myanmar)

The recent killing of a pregnant dolphin, which is believed to have been killed by illegal electrofishing, has set off alarm bells for conservationists to step up efforts for saving the endangered species.
“The death is the first ever in the conservation area between Mandalay and Kyaukmyaung”,said Kyaw Hla Thein, the
project manager of the dolphin conservation team of the
Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in Myanmar. “We assume that the fish was killed by illegal battery-shock fishing”. The team recorded 58 such killings in 2015.
During the monthly survey trip, the team found a one-foot long dolphin fetus in its mother’s womb. The Ayeyawady dolphin is on the brink of extinction.
Some conservationists suspect the degraded quality of the river water contributed to the death of the dolphin. “The death can be assumed due to abortion because the water is polluted with chemicals from farmlands along the river and pollution caused by gold mines,” said U Han Win, a dolphin conservationist.
Battery-shock fishing and net fishing are mostly blamed for the deaths of Ayayawady dolphins.
With this most recent death and another one in August, the number of dolphins in a 72-kilometre stretch of the Ayeyawady River between Mandalay and Kyaukmyaung has decreased from 25 to 23.
Annual surveys by WCS have shown that the number of the dolphins had increased from 17 or 18 in 2005 to 24 in February last year between Mandalay and Kyaukmyaung.
The survey in February also found 58 dolphins between Mandalay and Bhamo, which is a drop from 72 in 2004.
Most of the dead dolphins were found near Bhamo and Katha and were caused by illegal fishing, according to the fisheries department.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has warned that Irrawaddy dolphins are at risk of extinction. In Myanmar, Irrawaddy dolphins have been known to drive fish toward fishermen’s nets in return for some of the fishersmen’s catch.
But with many fishermen on the Ayeyawady river using illegal battery-shock fishing techniques, the dolphins often also fall prey to electrocution.
Illegal battery-shock fishing has become a big challenge for conservationists and local authorities in their quest to save the endangered species, according to Myanmar’s fisheries department.
The Myanmar government has banned electrofishing nationwide, punishing violators with a three-year prison sentence and a K300,000 fine.
“Sometimes, we witness electroshock fishing in the river during our routine conservation trips. Once we see them, they run away,” U Kyaw Hla Thein said.


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