The first freshwater dolphin identification survey of 2023 was conducted from January 12-17, with the participation of international experts from the Sarasota Dolphin Research Programme, the US Marine Mammal Commission, and the specialist groups that constitute the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Species Survival Commission, according to a January 27 announcement from World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Cambodia.

Photo-identification surveys play an important role in monitoring the dolphin population in the Mekong River. The study is conducted of the Irrawaddy dolphin’s habitat – a 180km stretch of the Mekong River, from Kratie to Stung Treng provinces – every two or three years by researchers from the Fisheries Administration (FiA) – which is under the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries – and WWF Cambodia.

The data from the current survey will be matched with previous reports to provide a population estimate.

“This work is crucial for providing an update on the Mekong population and supporting relevant state agencies at all levels, NGO partners, and wildlife scientists in defining innovative measures for strengthening the conservation of the Mekong dolphins,” said WWF Cambodia.

A 2020 population survey estimated that only 89 dolphins remained swimming in the Mekong from Kratie to Stung Treng. The dolphins' survival is threatened by illegal fishing and the impact of upstream dam construction.

“The WWF stands ready to collaborate with all relevant stakeholders to support an enhanced management and conservation strategy to protect the critically endangered Mekong dolphins, considered one of Cambodia's living national treasures,” added the statement.