dolphins live in the Sundarbans: It is home to one-third of the world’s freshwater dolphins and 60% of the world’s saltwater dolphins.
The Sundarbans dolphin census is showing that the number of animals in the mangrove forest rivers is decreasing, which scientists attribute to climate change and the removal of freshwater from upstream.
Experts believe that rising salinity in coastal rivers, a lack of fresh water in the Ganges river system, and increased economic activity in and near the Sundarbans are endangering the famous mammal.
“We haven’t finished the census yet, but we can state that the number of dolphins is dropping as compared to the last census in 2006,” said Monirul H Khan, the team’s leader and an acclaimed wildlife specialist.
His two-man crew has finished their work in the majority of the Sundarbans.
The census is being carried out by the Department of Forests, with assistance from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) performed the first dolphin survey in the Sundarbans in 2006. It discovered 225 Gangetic dolphins, known locally as Sushuk, and 451 Irrawaddy dolphins.
Four of the world’s 40 dolphin species may be found in the Sundarbans. Finless porpoises and pink Indo-pacific humpback dolphins can be observed here on occasion.
“We saw one family of four pink dolphins and two finless porpoises this time.” “It’s difficult to establish their status because these two species aren’t present in the Sundarbans on a regular basis,” Monirul explained.
The pink dolphins have been spotted in the Sundarbans for the first time by a survey crew. They are one of the biggest dolphins and may be found along India’s east coast, the Indo-Malay archipelago, and all the way east to Australia, where the water is quite salty.
The pink dolphin was discovered in the nation for the first time in 2002.
When asked if the pink dolphins were still alive in the Sundarbans as the water salinity rose, Monirul answered it was impossible to say without more investigation.
“What we can say is that we saw a family of four dolphins, which may be the first time an entire family has been observed in the Sundarbans,” he explained.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red data book, dolphins are among the world’s most endangered animals. Dolphin scientists have urged the government to designate areas of the Sundarbans rivers as dolphin sanctuaries, citing the mangrove forest as the world’s biggest single home for freshwater cetaceans.
The government designated 10.7 square kilometres of the Pashur and Andharmanik rivers and their channels in the Dhangmari, Chandpai, and Dudhmukhi districts as “dolphin sanctuaries” in 2012.
Last week, 15 to 20 dolphins, both adults and juveniles, were observed during a dolphin census near the Dhangmari sanctuary.
Dilip Maity Ahsan, divisional forest officer Wildlife Sundarbans and census project director, stated that greater limitations were required to safeguard dolphins in the Sundarbans.
Even the sanctuary zones are not safe. In some places, one side of a river is designated as protected, while the other is not. Fishermen can be seen on one side of the river. This is not practical, according to Dilip Maity.
Although dolphins are rarely intentionally abducted, hundreds of dolphins perish each year after being trapped in fishing nets. They are also endangered because to pollution caused by water transportation operating in the Sundarbans.
Experts say that a lack of freshwater flow from upstream, blamed on the upper riparian region, is increasing salt in the river, causing dolphins to disappear.
They said that only a few years ago, dolphins could be seen in all of the country’s main waterways. They can currently only be spotted in a few big rivers, such as the Padma and the Karnaphuli.
Dolphins were present in the Buriganga near Dhaka three decades ago, according to Khasru Chowdhury, a prominent Sundarbans researcher who visited to watch the census being conducted.
Overfishing, according to experts, is a key cause of the reduction in dolphin numbers. Dolphins are also said to become caught in bank-to-bank fishing nets and to be pursued in some locations for their supposed therapeutic benefits.
According to Khurshid Alam, assistant country director for the UNDP in Bangladesh, they are sponsoring the dolphin study as part of their efforts to help Bangladesh reach Sustainable Development Goal (14), which is to safeguard underwater biodiversity.
Dolphin number rising in Sundarbans sanctuaries
According to speakers at a webinar, the growth rate of dolphins in three sanctuaries in the Sundarbans, the world’s biggest mangrove forest, is 55 per cent – a watershed moment in the country’s dolphin conservation.
In the last two years, the number of dolphins at the Dhangmari, Dudhmukhi, and Chandpai sanctuaries has increased from 47 to 73.
On Saturday, the data was released during a ceremony hosted by the Forest Department to commemorate International Freshwater Dolphin Day 2020.
So far, the government has designated nine dolphin sanctuaries around the country. The Dolphin Action Plan and the Atlas on Dolphin Expansion in the Country have also been produced, according to speakers.
Md Shahab Uddin, Minister of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change stated that the number of dolphins in the Sundarbans is rising significantly due to the effectiveness of government efforts to safeguard endangered aquatic species.
” It is feasible to save the river’s ecosystem if dolphins are safeguarded. “As a result, the government is working hard to safeguard freshwater dolphins,” he explained.
Despite the fact that dolphins are endangered internationally, Rakibul Amin, Country Representative of IUCN Bangladesh, stated that Bangladesh is in extremely excellent condition. The country is home to one-third of the world’s freshwater dolphins and 60% of its saltwater dolphins.
He believes that new sanctuaries should be established to boost the number of Sundarbans dolphins and that the aquatic species should be designated as national freshwater creatures.
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