Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - First Irrawaddy dolphin increase since ’97



First Irrawaddy dolphin increase since ’97

Two of the four Irrawaddy dolphins born in 2018 swim in the Mekong River earlier this year.  A new census on Monday revealed that the population for the critically endangered Irrawaddy dolphins increased to 92 in 2017, compared to 80 in 2015. WWF-Cambodia
Two of the four Irrawaddy dolphins born in 2018 swim in the Mekong River earlier this year. A new census on Monday revealed that the population for the critically endangered Irrawaddy dolphins increased to 92 in 2017, compared to 80 in 2015. WWF-Cambodia

First Irrawaddy dolphin increase since ’97

The Cambodian population of the critically endangered Irrawaddy dolphins in the Mekong River has increased for the first time in two decades, officials announced on Monday, though the figure still falls below the riverine mammal’s population in 2007 when it stood at 95.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Cambodia and the government released the 2017 dolphin census during a press conference at the Fisheries Administration on Monday, saying the population had increased to 92 in 2017, up from 80 in 2015. When counting began in 1997, the dolphins numbered 200, a figure that had fallen by more than half – to 95 – by the time conservation efforts took off in 2007.

While Seng Teak, country director for WWF-Cambodia, was quoted in a press release saying officials “finally have a reason to believe that these iconic dolphins can be protected against extinction”, he later acknowledged during an interview that the population is still far too low.

“The dolphins [are] still critically endangered. It’s a small population, to be honest,” he said. “The population of 92 is still critical.”

Though he maintained the gains are a positive sign, Teak wasn’t able to specify what population level would be considered healthy.

The census also revealed an increase in new calves and a decrease in deaths, with only two dolphins dying in 2017, compared to nine in 2015. Four calves have been born so far in 2018, though two didn’t survive. Last December, the International Union for Conservation of Nature upgraded the species’ status to critically endangered on its Red List.

Teak credited the recent population increase to effective law enforcement and patrolling in the core conservation zone, removing gillnets and poisons, halting dynamite fishing and curbing other unsustainable fishing practices.

Some $350,000, including around $140,000 from the government, is spent annually on conservation efforts, Teak said.

But illegal fishing remains a challenge, and officials plan to redouble their efforts in coming years, said Phay Somany, deputy director of the Department of Fisheries Conservation and Government Liaison at WWF, who carried out most of the research.

“It’s hard to control fishing at night,” he said.

Randall Reeves, chairman of the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s Cetacean Specialist Group, who was not involved in the census, said the news of the population increase was “encouraging”, but progress hinged on few important factors.

“The animals appear to be in good health and are capable of regular reproduction, and therefore as long as they are protected from entanglement or entrapment in fishing gear, and as long as their habitat remains intact and productive (and is unobstructed by more dams), they should be able to recover to at least several hundred animals, at which point our concern about their long-term survival might begin to ease,” he said in an email.

However, multiple dam projects currently pose a threat to the area, including the 260-megawatt Don Sahong Dam on the Mekong mainstream. The dam, still under construction, is less than 2 kilometres from the Cambodian border, WWF’s Somany said, and once operational, it will “fully block” fish migration from Cambodia to Laos during the dry season, putting more pressure on the ecosystem and the fishermen who rely on it.

“It will cause a big problem,” he said.

The 2,600-megawatt Sambor Dam in Kratie province is also being discussed by the government. While Somany declined to speak on the impacts of Sambor, WWF’s Teak said the proposed dam would pose another major challenge to the dolphins’ continued existence.

A very cautious assessment will be needed to analyse the risks, benefits and losses, he said, “and I wish [it’s] based on the importance of the benefits of the fishery or aquatic resources out there”.

MOST VIEWED

  • Kingdom's Covid cluster cases jump to 194

    The Ministry of Health on February 25 confirmed 65 new cases of Covid-19, with 58 linked to the February 20 community transmission. The latest cluster cases include nine Vietnamese nationals, five Cambodians, one each from Korea, Singapore and Japan, with the rest being Chinese. This brings the total number

  • Locations shut, dozens more Covid-19 positive

    The Ministry of Health has closed 23 locations in connection with the February 20 community transmission of Covid-19 and summoned for testing anyone who had direct contact with affected people and places. The number of discovered related infections has risen to 76, including 39 women. In a press release,

  • Cambodia's Covid cluster cases rise to 137

    The Ministry of Health on February 24 recorded 40 more cases of Covid-19, with 38 linked to the February 20 community transmission. Of the 40, two are imported cases involving Chinese passengers. The 38 include two Vietnamese nationals and one Cambodian, with the rest being Chinese. This brings the total cases

  • Covid cluster raises alarm, health bodies urge vigilance

    The Ministry of Health and the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Cambodia have expressed great concern over the February 20 cluster transmission of Covid-19 in the community. Both entities appealed for vigilance and cooperation in curbing further spread of the virus. Ministry spokeswoman Or Vandine said

  • PM confirms third Covid-19 community transmission

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on February 20 announced the Kingdom's third outbreak of Covid-19 community transmission after 32 people tested positive in just over 10 hours. Addressing the public from his residence after an emergency meeting, Hun Sen said: "I dub it February 20 Community Event, in which 32 cases

  • Cambodia to make auto-rickshaws

    Locally-assembled electric auto-rickshaws could hit the Cambodian market as soon as early in May after the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC) gave the greenlight to an investment project at the weekend. According to a CDC press release, it will issue a final registration