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WDC team at UN Ocean conference

Give the ocean a chance – our message from the UN Ocean Conference

I'm looking out over the River Tejo in Lisbon, Portugal, reflecting on the astounding resilience...
We need whale poo ? WDC NA

Whales are our climate allies – meet the scientists busy proving it

At Whale and Dolphin Conservation, we're working hard to bring whales and the ocean into...
Humpback whale underwater

Climate giants – how whales can help save the world

We know that whales, dolphins and porpoises are amazing beings with complex social and family...
Black Sea common dolphins © Elena Gladilina

The dolphin and porpoise casualties of the war in Ukraine

Rare, threatened subspecies of dolphins and porpoises live in the Black Sea along Ukraine's coast....
Minke whale © Ursula Tscherter - ORES

The whale trappers are back with their cruel experiment

Anyone walking past my window might have heard my groan of disbelief at the news...
Boto © Fernando Trujillo

Meet the legendary pink river dolphins

Botos don't look or live like other dolphins. Flamingo-pink all over with super-skinny snouts and...
Risso's dolphin entangled in fishing line and plastic bags - Andrew Sutton

The ocean is awash with plastic – can we ever clean it up?

You've seen pictures of plastic litter accumulating on beaches or marine wildlife swimming through floating...
Fin whale

Is this the beginning of the end for whaling off Iceland?

I'm feeling cautiously optimistic after Iceland's Fisheries Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir wrote that there is little...
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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.