Endangered Indus river dolphins see hope in Beas
There are between five and 11 Indus river dolphins in the 185-km stretch of the Beas that flows through Punjab, but the sighting of young calves, however, signalled a breeding population and hope for revival, according to the first organised survey by World Wildlife Federation-India and the state’s department of Punjab.
This subspecies of the South Asian River Dolphin was once found in the major tributaries of the Indus that flow through India, but is now found only in Beas, the survey, which was released on Wednesday, explained.
“Ultimately the aim is to dev- elop a conservation strategy for Indus river dolphins,” said Sur- esh Babu, director, rivers, wetlands and water policy at WWF-India. “ It is a small population,we need to ensure adequate environmental flow for the river and dolphin and protect their prey base.”
“The exciting thing was that we found few weeks-old calves, indicating it is a breeding population,” he added. The Indus river dolphin (Platanista gangetica ssp. minor) is a subspecies of the South Asian River Dolphin, wh- ich includes the Gangetic river dolphin. The subspecies is endangered and is placed in Schedule I of India’s Wildlife Protection Act.
The Indus river dolphin is the national marine mammal of Pakistan and the Gangetic dolphin is the national aquatic animal of India. “The threats faced by the Gangetic river dolphin and the Indus river dolphin are different because the population of Indus river dolphins is small and isolated. An accident can wipe out the entire population,” said Qamar Qureshi, a scientist at Wildlife Institute of India.
The South Asian River Dolph- ins are also called the blind river dolphins because they don’t have functional sight, and navigate and catch prey through echolocation using a biological sonar.
There are only four dolphin sp- ecies that live in freshwater. The Indus river dolphin is believed to have emerged after the Tethys Sea dried up they were compelled to adapt to and live in rivers.
Traditionally, the dolphins were found in the mainstem of the Indus and its five tributaries Sutlej, Beas, Ravi, Chenab and Jhelum. But it’s range reduced by almost 80% compared to the late 1800s, with the Indian population limited to Beas.
Since the Beas is circumscribed by the Pong Dam in Himachal Pradesh and the Harike barrage in Punjab, this population is isolated from members in Indus in Pakistan, where their number is about 1,800. A step to protect the habitat was taken last year, when the Beas stretch in Punjab was declared a conservation reserve, with a ban on commercial fishing, netting or hunting.
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