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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Dolphin deaths rise in 2009

Dolphin deaths rise in 2009

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090501_05.jpg

Conservation officials express concern that overzealous fishermen, hoping to cash in on wet season fish migration, are netting dolphin calves

Photo by:

TRACEY SHELTON

An adult Irrawaddy dophin in Cambodia’s Kratie province in this file photograph.

ILLEGAL gill nets being used by fisherman in Kratie province have led to the deaths of two baby Irrawaddy dolphins this year, causing local experts to fear a another increase in calf mortality rates.

"Two baby dolphins weighing about 10 kilograms each died from gill net deployments in February and March. Last year only one dolphin died from illegal netting," Touch Seang Tana, chairman of the government's Commission for Conservation and Development of Eco-tourism in the Mekong Dolphin Zone, told the Post.

"We have arrested two fishermen in connection with the deaths and subsequently confiscated their illegal fishing equipment and educated them prior to their release," he said.

Traditionally, there is an increase of gill net deployment in the leadup to the wet season, with fisherman hoping to capitalise on fish moving into the new waterways created by the rains.

"We have launched a new crackdown until the end of next month, arresting fishermen who use illegal techniques such as dynamiting, electric fishing and gill netting - however I still predict that we will lose one or two more dolphins because our patrols are restricted by limited resources," Touch Seang Tana said.

The global conservation group WWF recently estimated Cambodia's Irrawaddy dolphin population living between Kratie and southern Laos at between 76 and 86.

In 2005, a similar study by WWF estimated the number to be between 108 and 146.

In 2004, Cambodia's dolphins were listed as a critically endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. WWF last year noted an increase in calf mortality and a decrease in birth rate being among several factors reducing the population.

Moreover, officials fear that resources for conservation work may be affected by a decline in tourist numbers.

"In the first quarter of this year, foreign tourists visiting the dolphins in Kratie dropped 14 percent to 4,303 from 5,029 at the same period last year," said Ia Monden, chief of Kratie's Tourism Department.

"I forecast that the number of foreign tourists ... will drop at least 15 percent this year as 80 percent of the visitors are Westerners and Europeans, all effected by the [global economic] crisis," he said. 

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