Gangetic Dolphins, known as Sushuk in Bengali, which were once seen swimming alongside ships and boats, have gradually dwindled in number. The forest department has come up with a comprehensive plan to conduct a dolphin census in the state and the plan has been forwarded to Delhi by the urban development (UD) department, the nodal agency at the state level for the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) initiative.
“We have forwarded a Dolphin Action Plan for West Bengal on December 24. This is a component under the Government of India’s NMCG. There will also be awareness programmes in the plan,” secretary of the UD department Debashis Sen said.
“The Gangetic Dolphin is an indicator. The presence of these dolphins indicates that in a particular area, the water is clean and pollution free. Their presence, like that of tigers, indicates a healthy forest,” Ujjwal Bhattacharya, Principal Chief Conservator of Forest, wildlife and Chief Wildlife Warden of West Bengal. “These Gangetic dolphins only stay in an area where there is no pollution in water. They leave their habitat when the water gets polluted and return once the pollution level drops,” he said.
“They are mostly found in Murshidabad, regions above Farakka, in tributaries of Ganga, Ichamati, Torsa and Joldhasa, near Sunderbans (where the water is not saline). If the plan is approved, the project will be funded by the central government,” he said.
“In our report we have mentioned details about where Gangetic Dolphins are mostly found and plan on how their numbers will be counted,” Bhattacharya said. He added that if the proposal is accepted, work would begin in January since winters are the best time to ascertain their numbers. This can be carried out in a number of ways - one, is by taking note of when dolphins are sighted while cruising in the river or with the help of an instrument which can detect dolphins. The instrument can read ultrasonic sounds made by dolphins, otherwise inaudible to the human ear.
“The Gangetic Dolphin was declared the National Aquatic Animal in 2010. It is an endangered species. It does not have eyes and finds its way through echolocation (the use of sound waves and echoes to determine where objects are in a given space), which does not work through nylon fishing nets.