Rare blind Indus Dolphin survey kicks off

* Population of rarest freshwater mammals is expected to rise: WWF-Pakistan

Rare blind Indus Dolphin survey kicks off


KARACHI: The 30-day survey, focusing on the population status of the endangered blind Indus dolphin has initiated by World Wildlife Fund for Nature, WWF-Pakistan.

The survey, conducted every five years, began on March 21 and will continue for next one month.

Indus river dolphin survey team consisting of 20 members, led by Hamera Aysha, Manager Wildlife WWF-Pakistan, comprises on officials from the wildlife departments of KP, Punjab and Sindh; a member of Zoological Survey Department. Survey is also facilitated by Sindh and Punjab Irrigation departments.

While, Dr. Gillian T. Braulik, a dolphin conservation expert and member IUCN Cetacean Specialist Group, who has also trained the survey team on the survey methodology, is also assisting in the survey.

The team has started survey to count the rarest freshwater mammal from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa above the Jinnah Barrage. "The survey would cover entire Indus river dolphin distribution range which is about 1000 km stretch of the Indus River. It includes main Indus channel and active channels connected to it between Jinnah and Kotri barrages," said Asif Ali Sandeelo, Senior Communication Officer, WWF-Pakistan.

He said that blind dolphin is a global priority species, which is endemic to the Indus River System in Pakistan and is listed as an endangered species in the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of threatened species.

In Sindhi language, blind dolphin is called bhulan, which is a freshwater dwelling cetacean species and is considered a flagship species and is an indicator of the biological health of aquatic and terrestrial environment adjoining the Indus River.

This unique specie of freshwater dolphins is also referred to as the 'blind dolphin' as its eye hasn't developed a lens and it relies on echolocation (sound sensors) to find fish, shrimp, and other prey in the bottom mud.

The current distribution range of the Indus River dolphin is about 1000 km stretch of the Indus River which includes main Indus channel and active channels connected to it between Jinnah and Kotri barrages.

A 200 km stretch of the Indus River between Guddu and Sukkur barrages is declared as 'Indus Dolphin Reserve' in 1974, which a legally Protected Area holding the largest population of Indus River dolphin, which is also a Ramsar site, protected under Ramsar Convention. Majority of dolphins are found in this area.

According to WWF-Pakistan officials, this is fourth survey, while first survey was conducted in 2001, second in 2006 and third was conducted in 2011. In 2001 the first comprehensive study was conducted by WWF-Pakistan which revealed that about 1,100 dolphins exist in the Indus River. In second survey conducted in 206 by WWF- Pakistan, led by Dr. Gillian T. Braulik revealed 1,750 dolphins in the Indus River. While, the population of the Indus river dolphin is about 1,452, according to a survey conducted in 2011.

"We are expecting the rise in the number of dolphin after this survey," said Sandelo.

Hamera Aysha, the team leader of the survey team, talking to Daily Times said that hopefully positive results are expected in terms of dolphin population as WWF-Pakistan with support of wildlife departments has been taking joint efforts to conserve a viable population of the Indus river dolphin by reducing its losses in canal stranding through rescue operations, capacity building sessions with officials of concerned departments and community awareness.

Replying to a question, Ayesha said that the population of Indus river dolphin is assessed after every five years started from 2001 at national scale. "The overall aim of the study is to provide basis for improved conservation actions and adaptive management in order to protect and conserve this endangered species of special concern," she added.

The habitat of this species is reduced to one-fifth of its historical range and the remaining habitat has become degraded, primarily due to shortage of water caused by the river's diversion to meet growing agricultural needs in a semi-arid country. Canal stranding, contamination due to industrial waste and agrochemicals, unsustainable fishing and net entanglements also contribute to endangerment of the species.

The survey team also conducted a comprehensive pollution assessment of the River Indus.

The shortage of water in River Indus and increasing pollution in the river is posing serious threats to this unique Aquatic mammal. According to Ayesha, the habitat of this species is reduced to one-fifth of its historical range and the remaining habitat has become degraded, primarily due to shortage of water caused by the river's diversion to meet growing agricultural needs in a semi-arid country. "Canal stranding, contamination due to industrial waste and agrochemicals, unsustainable fishing and net entanglements also contribute to endangerment of the species," she added.

Gill Braulik expressed her concerned over the growing pollution level in River Indus, which poses threats to River Indus dolphin. "Shocking levels of pollution in the River Indus from sugar mills in KP, Indus is stinking and full of scum," Braulik tweeted. She said that she has witnessed a very noticeable decline in water quality in the River Indus in KP in the last five years, due to pouring of untreated sugar mill pollution into the river.