August 19, 2016

Fighting back against dolphin electrocutions

An Irrawaddy Dolphin approaches fishermen near Mandalay.
An Irrawaddy Dolphin approaches fishermen near Mandalay.

AFTER spotting a rare baby dolphin in a protected area between Mandalay and Kyaukmyaung in September, dolphin conservationists are now preparing to conduct an annual survey of Irrawaddy dolphins in January or February next year.
“The number of dolphin births are on a par with births – and that’s not good,” said U Kyaw Hla Thein, the project manager of the dolphin conservation team of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in Myanmar.

An Irrawaddy dolphin in Krati, Cambodia.
An Irrawaddy dolphin in Krati, Cambodia.

He added that his team spotted the baby dolphin while carrying out the conservation efforts in September. It was the first baby dolphin recorded in 2015.
The team also found three baby dolphins in December 2014.
The Irrawaddy dolphin is found near sea coasts and in estuaries and rivers around Southeast Asia, especially in Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam.
WCS annual surveys have shown that the number of the dolphins has increased from 17 or 18 in 2005 to 24 in February last year in a 72 kilometre stretch of the Ayeyawady River 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.
Illegal electric-shock fishing is blamed for killing some dolphins, while some were caught in fishing nets.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has warned that Irrawaddy dolphins are at risk of extinction. In Myanmar, Irrawaddy dolphins been known to drive fish toward fishers using cast nets in return for some of the fishers’ catch.

An Irrawaddy dolphin drives fish toward fishermen near Mandalay.
An Irrawaddy dolphin drives fish toward fishermen near Mandalay.

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 in 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.
“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.
To prevent electro fishing in the river, government authorities and conservationists held a workshop in Mandalay in September.
During the workshop, the attendees reached an agreement in principle to form a team comprised of representatives from the WCS, the Fisheries Department and the police force to patrol the river once every two months.
As it cruises up and down the river, the ‘educative patrol’, as the attendees chose to name it, will offer information about the ban on electrofishing and on the penalties violators face to fishermen.
“The fishermen who use electric shocks 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 Irrawaddy dolphin in the country’s Ayeyawady delta in


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