Did you know that India is also the home to a magnificent dolphin species? The Ganges river dolphin is one of the only seven freshwater species existing in this world. Its rarity and extensive significance in the river ecosystem made the government of India announcing it as the National Aquatic Animal in 2009. These river dolphins majorly reside in the Ganga-Brahmaputra basin and face constant threats due to human interference in their natural habitat.
KEY FACTS :
- The scientific name of the Ganges river dolphin is Platanista gangetica gangetica.
- According to the assessments by the Environmental Ministry of India, there are about 3,700 Ganges river dolphins in the country. However, The World Wide Fund for Nature their number is between 1,200–1,800.
- Their weight ranges between 150-168 kilograms, whereas they roughly measure about 7-8.9 feet in length.
- Ganges river dolphins are essentially blind and hunt their prey by the principle of echolocation i.e. they emit ultraviolet sound waves that bounce off other fishes, helping them see an image.
The Ganges river dolphins are found in The Ganges- Brahmaputra river system. The Indian states Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar, Jharkhand, and West Bengal are home to these freshwater dolphins. Ganges river dolphins prefer freshwater sources with great depth and high density of fishes, so, they can prey easily.
Now, the question arises, why are the Ganges river dolphins endangered?
Today, an enormous population resides on the banks of river Ganga and the Brahmaputra. The lives of all the creatures, whether humans or, animals depend on these river sources. In proximity to any river source, there lives a large fisherman population. Bycatch is turning into an imminent threat to the lives of the harmless river dolphins. Often these dolphins are accidentally caught in the fishing nets and succumb to death. Moreover, some fishermen have begun to hunt the dolphins to extract their meat and oil for medical uses. The latter is also used by the fisherman to attract catfishes.
In this modern age, we see urban development as a direct quotient of progress in society. We often go to great extents to fulfill our ambitious plans and disturb the ecological balance without even thinking about the consequences. Today, thousands of factories on the banks of river Ganga constantly discharge millions of tonnes of toxic wastes without next-to-no filtration into the water resources. On the other hand, the ever-increasing use of pesticides and fertilizers in the proximity of rivers is rapidly degrading the river ecosystem. Together, these two factors are leading to the destruction of the habitat of all the aquatic species. These chemicals drastically pollute the quality of oxygen in the river ecosystem. Moreover, The Ganges river dolphins are on the top of the aquatic food chain, hence, a high amount of toxins are found in their body which is leading to poor health and even death in many cases.
Today, the free flow of the Great Indian rivers like the Ganga and the Brahmaputra is restricted by over 900 dams, barrages, and other hydroelectric structures constructed all over the river systems. Due to these large dams, the Ganges river dolphins often get separated into isolated groups that disrupt their movement and inbreeding cycle. In summers, the water level depletes at the top of the dams leaving the dolphins vulnerable to poachers. The vessel traffic, commercial activities, and polluted water quality form another set of threats for dolphins living below a dam.
EMPATHETIC APPROACH WITH SYSTEMATIC PLANNING :
Today, Dolphin, an innocent, harmless creature exuding humbleness and intelligence, is on the brink of extinction. The Ganges river holds an immense significance in the river ecosystem. As the top predators, the aquatic food chain is greatly dependent on them. Hence, their extinction means direct disruption of the river ecosystem. Humans tend to forget the concept of co-existence and prioritize their own selfish needs and greed. But, Every action has a consequence. There is an urgency to make people understand that our ecosystems will cease to exist without all these biologically diverse species. Every creature has a role to play in the ecosystem and, with the extinction of every unique species, we are coming one step closer to dooming our environment. The authorities should also consult the ecologists and wildlife activists before passing any development project to assure the greater good of all the creatures. They should partner with active wildlife organizations and NGOs to conduct seminars to spread awareness and find modest solutions. It should be compulsory for the industries to treat sewage and toxic waste before dumping them in the water resources. We can regulate the usage of pesticides and fertilizers or encourage the use of natural ones instead. Also, promoting sustainable fishing techniques will help regulate the bycatching accidents and assure the safety of the river dolphins. It is extremely important to educate the local communities for the best possible results. The government has launched Project Dolphin in the year 2020 to assure the safety of this species by partnering with the concerned stakeholders and applying scientific conservation methods to protect the biodiversity in our country. Meanwhile, you can try your best to keep the water resources clean and to be kind to all the creatures around you!