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India begins first organised census to estimate population of Indus dolphin

The Punjab government along with WWF-India would be conducting the first organised census of Indus Dolphins, one of the world's rarest mammals.

The move is aimed at conservation of the species. The dolphins are found only in India and Pakistan, confined to the 185 km stretch between Talwara and Harike Barrage in India's Beas River in Punjab.

Objective

The main aim behind the exercise is to establish the accurate population of the dolphins, in order to plan the conservation of the species accordingly.

Significance

It is the first organised census and would be conducted over a period of five days. Previously, the researchers had merely spotted the dolphins.

The officials from the Department of Forests and Wildlife Preservation, Punjab and WWF-India would be working in two teams to estimate the population of the dolphins.

Key Highlights

• The most flourishing population of the Indus dolphin, platanista gangetica minor, is reportedly found across Pakistan where their numbers are estimated to be around 1,800 over a stretch of 1,500 km of the Indus River.

• In India, only a tiny population survives that too in the small stretch of Beas River.

• According to experts, they were also found in Sutlej decades back. However, river pollution is believed to be the major cause of extinction of the species from the habitat.

• The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) suspects that the population size of the Indus river dolphins has reduced by more than 50 per cent since 1944.

According to Suresh Babu, Director River Wetland and Water Policy, WWF-India, dolphins are a key indicator of a river’s health, if a river is healthy the dolphins will be there and Sutlej is the example of what happens when a river is not healthy.

 



About Indus Dolphins

• The Indus river dolphins are one of the only four river dolphin species and subspecies in the world that spend all of their lives in freshwater.

• They are believed to have originated in the ancient Tethys Sea.

• When the sea dried up approximately 50 million years ago, the dolphins were forced to adapt to its only remaining habitat—rivers.

• Only 1,816 dolphins are reported to exist presently in the lower parts of the Indus River.

• Their numbers have declined dramatically after the construction of an irrigation system.

• Most dolphins are confined to a 750 mile stretch of the river and are divided into isolated populations by six barrages.

• They have adapted to life in the muddy river and are functionally blind.

• They rely on echolocation to navigate, communicate and hunt prey including prawns, catfish and carp.

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