Deaths push rare Asia dolphins nearer extinction

Ten dead Irrawaddy dolphins have been found in Cambodia’s Mekong River, eight of them calves, pushing one of the rarest cetaceans nearer extinction, the environmental group WWF International said.

The deaths mean a 10 per cent drop in the number of Irrawaddy dolphins living in the Mekong, previously thought to be between 80 and 100. They are restricted to a 190km stretch of the river in the Cambodia/Laos border area.

There are believed to be about 1,000 of the dolphins worldwide, other groups being found in Thai coastal estuaries and a few other freshwater locations in Asia.

”This is terrible news, making a serious situation even more critical,” said Robert Mather, Senior Conservation Policy Manager of WWF’s Greater Mekong Programme, yesterday.

”This time of year commonly sees a peak in dolphin deaths, but 10 in the last two months is particularly high and … none have been reported since May 2005,” he said.

The WWF said that at least one of the dolphins drowned after becoming entangled in fishing gillnets, the biggest threat to the Mekong population.

But other factors such as pollution may be responsible as eight of the 10 dead dolphins were calves, it said.

”This trend (calves dying) has been seen for a number of years and is suspected to be due to some form of environmental pollution.

However, ongoing tissue samples and chemical analysis have yet to reveal the cause,” the WWF said.