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A dolphin called Arnie with a shell

Dolphins catch fish using giant shell tools

In Shark Bay, Australia, two groups of dolphins have figured out how to use tools...
Common dolphins at surface

Did you know that dolphins have unique personalities?

We all have personalities, and between the work Christmas party and your family get-together, perhaps...
Leaping harbour porpoise

The power of harbour porpoise poo

We know we need to save the whale to save the world. Now we are...
Holly. Image: Miray Campbell

Meet Holly, she’s an incredible orca leader

Let me tell you the story of an awe-inspiring orca with a fascinating family story...
Humpback whale. Image: Christopher Swann

A story about whales and humans

As well as working for WDC, I write books for young people. Stories; about the...
Risso's dolphin at surface

My lucky number – 13 years studying amazing Risso’s dolphins

Everything we learn about the Risso's dolphins off the coast of Scotland amazes us and...
Dead sperm whale in The Wash, East Anglia, England. © CSIP-ZSL.

What have dead whales ever done for us?

When dead whales wash up on dry land they provide a vital food source for...
Risso's dolphin © Andy Knight

We’re getting to know Risso’s dolphins in Scotland so we can protect them

Citizen scientists in Scotland are helping us better understand Risso's dolphins by sending us their...
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Port River dolphins

New report reveals 100,000 dolphins and small whales hunted every year

When you hear the words ‘dolphin hunts’ it’s likely that you think of Japan or...

Minke whale hunts stop in Iceland

Iceland’s commercial hunt of minke whales has ended for this year. The common minke whale is the...

Icelandic whalers breach international law and kill iconic, protected whale by mistake

Icelandic whalers out hunting fin whales for the first time in three years appear to...

Doubts remain after Icelandic Marine Institute claims slaughtered whale was a hybrid not a blue

Experts remain sceptical of initial test results issued by the Icelandic Marine Institute, which indicate...

Japan set to resume commercial whaling

Reports from Japan suggest that the government they will formally propose plans to resume commercial...

End the whale hunts! Icelandic fin whaler isolated as public mood shifts

Here’s a sight I hoped never again to witness. A boat being scrubbed and repainted...

Australian Government to block Japanese whaling proposal

Japanese Government officials have reportedly confirmed that they will propose the resumption of commercial whaling...

Pregnant whales once again a target for Japanese whalers

Figures from Japan's whaling expedition to Antarctica during the 2017/18 austral summer have revealed that...

Did Icelandic whalers really kill a blue whale?

*Warning - this blog contains an image that you may find upsetting* They say a...

SOS alert for whales off Norway!

I have to admit to bitter disappointment when I arrived in Tromsø, northern Norway, a...

Norway's whaling season begins

April 1st saw the start of the whaling season in Norway. Despite a widely-accepted international moratorium...

Norway increases whaling quota despite declining demand

Norway's government has announced an increase in the number of minke whales that can be...

Are the Irrawaddy dolphins in Burma holding steady or are they headed for extinction?

In Burma, Irrawaddy dolphins have generally been revered by local people in addition to providing direct economic benefits to cast-net fishermen through their role in a human-dolphin cooperative fishery. As with other dolphins who live in such close proximity to humans there are several threats to their survival however, in Burma there is concern that one threat in particular is on the increase with potentially devastating effects – the extirpation of the Irrawaddy dolphin from the very river that they were named after. 

Electric fishing, cited as being responsible for the largest number of known deaths of the now functionally extinct baiji, has been a problem along the Ayeyarwady River for many years however in recent years the magnitude of this problem has increased substantially. Other threats include entanglement in gill-nets, chemical and noise pollution from mercury and blasting both used in nearby gold-mining processes and habitat modification as a result of increased sedimentation also from nearby gold-mining processes.

Between 2002 and 2004, WDC in collaboration with WCS and the Burmese Department of Fisheries (DoF), conducted surveys to determine the range and abundance of the species in the river. Results showed that the range of the dolphins had declined dramatically (by over 50%) compared with historical reports and the population was estimated to be between 59 – 72 individuals. This information along with other information on the growing threats to the dolphins resulted in the population being classified as Critically Endangered (CE) – a classification given to all populations of Irrawaddy dolphins found outside of India and Bangladesh.

As a result of this, in December 2005 the DoF created a protected area for the dolphins in a 74-km river segment which included requirements for fishermen to immediately release dolphins if they were found alive and entangled in their nets, prohibited the catching or killing of dolphins and trade in whole animals or their body parts, banned the use of gill-nets that obstructed the water-course and reiterated the ban on electric fishing.

Recent surveys undertaken by the DoF put the population of Irrawaddy dolphins in the Ayeyarwady River at 63 individuals. This number sounds low (hence their status as CE) however, given that the population estimate from 10 years ago was 59 – 72 individuals perhaps the Irrawaddy dolphin is managing to hold on in the face of extreme adversity. 

The real decline seems to be in the number of dolphins fishing co-operatively with the local fishermen. They believe that this is due to the fact that the noise they make to attract the dolphins is the same as the noise emitted from electric fishing operations and the dolphins are just scared of getting trapped and killed by those fishermen engaging in the illegal practice. In Burma therefore, although the friendship and mutually benefical relationship between man and dolphin may be falling apart it looks as if the population numbers are holding steady. The sad truth is that perhaps the only way for them to survive in the long term is to distance themselves from mankind even further.

Watch this report from the BBC investigating the decline of Irrawaddy dolphins.