An Irrawaddy dolphin which was recently found dead brought the number of deceased specimens to almost ten this year. This has raised concerns about the unprecedented rise in cases in the recent years.

A December 20 statement by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in Cambodia said the Fisheries Administration (FiA) and the organisation were saddened by the loss of another Irrawaddy dolphin from the Mekong population.

The dolphin that passed away was an adult male of 15-20 years. With a length of 230cm, he weighed 162kg. The carcass was discovered floating in the Koh Dambang deep pool near the provincial border between Kratie and Stung Treng, it added.

WWF Cambodia said a thorough examination of the dolphin carcass on December 18 led the members of the FiA-WWF research team to determine that the animal likely died as a result of becoming entangled in a gillnet. There were signs of monofilaments on the flippers, body and fluke, and bruising around lesions on the throat.

“This tragic report brings the total number of deaths to nine dolphins this year. We are deeply concerned about the mortalities, which have grown at an unprecedented rate. During the past 3 years, 27 dolphins died in total,” it added.

Seng Teak, WWF country director, said that it was extremely concerning every time a dead dolphin was discovered.

He confirmed that the death of a healthy adult dolphin like this one was sad given its currently tiny population, as it directly affects the breeding potential of the Mekong dolphin population.

“We urge the relevant authorities to step up law enforcement efforts to completely end all illegal fishing activities in dolphin conservation areas,” he said.

He added that by strengthening law enforcement we could not only protect our living heritage but also improve management of wild fish stocks to provide long-lasting food security for millions.

“If current illegal fishing practices continue, the Mekong dolphins may go extinct in the near future,” he said.

The Mekong Irrawaddy dolphin (Orcaella brevirostrisis) is listed as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. In 2020, population surveys by the FiA and WWF estimated that just 89 dolphins remain in the Mekong River.

The survival of the dolphins is threatened by illegal fishing in protected areas and the construction of up-river dams. Urgent and greater cooperation is needed to develop more effective conservation measures to protect them from extinction.

Ministry of Environment secretary of state and spokesman Neth Pheaktra said earlier in the year that a zero-snaring campaign was not only focused on land, but also in the Kingdom’s waterways.

“I urge people not to enter the restricted areas of the dolphin sanctuary, because we have only 89 left. If the breeding population continues to lose individuals, we will certainly lose them at some point,” he added.

“Every year, many Irrawaddy dolphins are found dead, some trapped by fishing nets and others killed by electrocution. I urge the public to participate in conserving these magnificent creatures so that Cambodia can maintain its preparations to declare their habitat a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site,” he concluded.