More conversation efforts are required to protect freshwater, or Irrawaddy, dolphins outside their protected habitats, say conservation officials, after a two-month-old calf was found dead in Kandal province last week.

The Kingdom’s dolphin population normally dwell in the Mekong River in Kratie province and upstream to the Laos border. An uncommon and tragic discovery was made when the deceased baby dolphin was found by fishermen in Peam village, Roka Korng 1 commune of Kandal’s Mok Kampoul district.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ Fisheries Administration (FiA) released an August 9 statement which said the calf, which weighed 14.4kg, was found earlier that morning. It believed the young dolphin was likely following its mother in search of fish.

“A calf usually lives with its mother and breastfeeds for up to a year. It is possible that the dolphin may have followed its mother from upstream in Kratie province or Stung Treng down to Kandal province and got caught in a fishing net,” the statement added.

Director of the FiA’s Fisheries Conservation Department Ouk Vibol explained that nets are banned only within the dolphin protected zone and the area not far from its border.

The dolphin had left the zone and travelled to Kampong Cham, where FiA officials do not have the authority to ban the use of fishing nets, as they are a traditional tool of local fisherman.

“It is rare to find a dolphin in a net in Kandal province. This is the first case this year where a dolphin got lost and died downstream. Once they leave the protected zone, they rarely escape from fishing nets, because there are a lot of fisheries downstream,” said Vibol.

FiA officials and those from dolphin conservation NGOs expressed regret at the death and called for more public participation in the protection of this rare and endangered species.

Seng Teak, country director of World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Cambodia, believed this was the third case of a dolphin leaving the protected area to search for food and dying in a fishing net.

“We call on all fishing communities downstream of the protected area to report any sightings of dolphins to the FiA. Specialists will do whatever they can to return the dolphins upstream,” he said.

He noted that three dolphins had been found death this year, an adult and two calves, including the latest case. Nevertheless, he noted that the death rate remain low compared to previous years.

He added that five new births had also been recorded this year, which indicated that conservation efforts were having the desired results.

The FiA said that as of the end of 2022, there were 90 Irrawaddy dolphins living in the protected area, which spans 180km of the Mekong River in Kratie and Stung Treng provinces.