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Irrawaddy dolphin population growing but experts concerned babies underweight

By: Nguon Sovan The Mekong Times Posted: March-10-2008 in
Nguon Sovan The Mekong Times

Deaths among Cambodia's fragile population of rare Irrawaddy dolphins have been gradually declining each year, with an average of 20 deaths in 2004 falling to just 6 or 7 in 2007, according to the Chairman of the Commission for Mekong Dolphins Conservation Touch Seang Tana.

He said that dolphin numbers have also increased from 100 to 140 or 150 in this timeframe, adding that last year the organization noted the birth of nine newborn dolphin babies, though two died in the first two months of 2008 when they were caught in gillnets.

Normally a dolphin baby weighs at least 5 kg, but the two dead babies both weighed around 4 kg he said, adding that the reduced weight could have resulted from factors induced by climate change or food shortages due to depleted fish populations.

"However, thanks to our efforts many people have been educated about the advantages of dolphins in tourism, many people have changed their careers from being fishermen to other agricultural work or making crafts for tourists since," said Touch Seang Tana.

He said that a 2006 ban on net fishing in the eastern provinces of Kratie and Stung Treng has been a great boon for the local dolphin population but his organization is concerned over the impacts of global warming and food shortages.

Teak Seng, the country director of World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Cambodia, wrote in e-mail that while global warming may be a possible indirect threat to the dolphin population, "at this moment, we don't have any scientific evidence that supports this causal relationship, therefore further research needs to be conducted."

He added that dolphins are very sensitive to changes in their environment such as water quality and temperature and that other factors - such as disease - could be influential.

The WWF and Fisheries Administration have jointly initiated various research initiatives including mortality investigations, population abundance and distribution monitoring, and water quality assessment in order to identify potential threats to the species. "When these threats have been identified, mitigation strategies can be put in place to protect this species," added Seng.

Ia Monden, director of Kratie's Tourism Department, said that visitors to the region's dolphin pools have increased in recent years.

"The number of foreign visitors to the pools increased 15 percent from 10,800 in 2006 to 12,400 in 2007, and in the last two months, there have been 3,500 visitors," he said.

Nguon Sovan is a reporter for the Mekong Times

This article first appeared in The Mekong Times
The Mekong Times is a daily newspaper distributed in Cambodia.
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