August 19, 2016

Endangered Ayeyawady dolphin population increases

A couple of Ayeyawady dolphins spotted in the Ayeyawady River during a survery in February. Photo: Thet Zaw Naing (WCS)
A couple of Ayeyawady dolphins spotted in the Ayeyawady River during a survery in February. Photo: Thet Zaw Naing (WCS)

FOLLOWING a 14-day survey conservationists said yesterday that they have recorded 65 Ayeyawady dolphins during their tip, but estimated the number could be around 70.
“During the trip, we spotted 65 dolphins including a baby dolphin. But, in Bhamo, we could count only eight dolphins there because the river water rose up dramatically with wood and debris floating in the river hindering our work,” said U Kyaw Hla Thein, the project manager of the dolphin conservation team of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in Myanmar. The team recorded 58 in 2015.
The survey in February also found 58 dolphins between Mandalay and Bhamo, which is a drop from 72 in 2004.
The team spotted the baby dolphin while carrying out the conservation efforts in September last year. It became the first baby dolphin recorded in 2015. The team also found three baby dolphins in December 2014.
“The significant part of this trip is that we did not see any illegal battery-shock fishing though we found during last year’s survey,” said Kyaw Hla Thein.
The conservationists from the Fisheries Department and Wildlife Conservation Society (Myanmar) also educated people during the trip at 10 villages, distributing pamphlets, giving educative talks and showing educative movies to villagers.
“Ayeyawady dolphins are on the brink of extinction. All the people are obliged to participate in the conservation as a national duty,” said U Khin Maung Aye, Deputy Minister from Livestock, Fisheries and Rural Development, at a press conference yesterday held in Mandalay.
The Ayeyawady dolphins are found near sea coasts and in estuaries and rivers around Southeast Asia, especially in Myanmar, Cambodia and Viet Nam.
WCS annual surveys have shown that the number of the dolphins has increased from 17 or 18 in 2005 to 24 in February 2014, 2 along a 72 kilometre stretch of the Ayeyawady River between Mandalay and Kyaukmyaung. Most of the dead dolphins were found near Bhamo and Katha and were caused by illegal fishing, according to the fisheries department.
Illegal electric-shock fishing is blamed for killing some dolphins, while some were caught in fishing nets. In Myanmar, Ayeyawady dolphins have been known to drive fish toward fishers using cast nets in return for some of the fishers’ catch.
However, now that many fishers on the Ayeyawady river use illegal battery-shock fishing techniques, the dolphins often also fall prey to electrocution.
Illegal battery-shock fishing is the greatest challenge for conservationists and local authorities are trying 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.
To prevent electro fishing in the river, government authorities and conservationists held a workshop in Mandalay in September.
“The fishermen who use electrical devices for fishing do not intend to kill dolphins. Unfortunately, the dolphins follow the fish and die when they are shocked or captured,” U Kyaw Hla Thein said. “We will step up our efforts to educate them.”  Local fishermen also spotted an Ayeyawady dolphin in the country’s Ayeyawady delta in September last year.—GNLM


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