Conservationists prepare to lift the stranded dolphin from its sling.
AMekong dolphin that has been stuck for months in a tributary near Phnom Penh
after flood waters receded was set free March 13 with the help of NGO staff, government
officials, and local fishermen. Its companion was rescued from a nearby rice field
three months earlier.
"For some reason these two were a bit dim and didn't move back quickly enough,"
said Colin Poole, country program coordinator for the Wildlife Conservation Society
(WCS). "There's always a risk in moving animals, but it got to the point where
it was thin, so we didn't feel we could leave it much longer."
Department of Fisheries employee Phay Somany helps WCS as a project officer specializing
in water mammals. He said the team took great measures to ensure the safety of the
dolphin, catching it early in the day to protect it from the sun.
"It was not difficult to catch it, because we know the technique and the dolphin
was 100 percent good," he said.
To catch the dolphin, local fishermen beat the water with bamboo poles, and the noise
drove it into a shallow area. A bamboo enclosure corralled the dolphin, which was
then caught in a net and placed on a special sling. From there, the sling was carried
to the Mekong River.
"The first one [in December] was totally still and calm. It made a lot of dolphin
whistling noises," said Poole. "The second one thrashed around a bit."
But when released into the river, said Somany, both dolphins did much the same: "They
swam away around eight to ten meters, then they came to the surface. Then they dove
down and disappeared."
There are thought to be only 150 to 200 dolphins living in the Mekong, between the
Laos-Cambodian border and Kratie in the north-east. During the dry season they are
restricted to approximately a dozen deep water areas. Fishermen consider it bad karma
to catch or harm them.