Freshwater, or river, dolphins are by their very nature a rarity in the world. Only four species are known, with two in Asia and two in South America—one of the Asian species, the Baiji of the Yangtze river, has been declared functionally extinct. Now, the South Asian river dolphin is receiving some desperately needed attention in the form of new sanctuaries.
Bangladesh has announced a plan to open three new sanctuaries in the Sundarbans—the world’s largest mangrove forest—to protect both subspecies of the South Asian river dolphin.
“Declaration of these Wildlife Sanctuaries is an essential first step in protecting Ganges River and Irrawaddy dolphins in Bangladesh,” Brian D. Smith, Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Asian Freshwater and Coastal Cetacean Program, explained, “as biological indicators of ecosystem-level impacts, freshwater dolphins can inform adaptive human-wildlife management to cope with climate change suggesting a broader potential for conservation and sustainable development.”
Currently, the dolphins face threats from dam projects, by-catch, pollution, prey loss due to overfishing, changes in salinity levels, and hunting—many of the same pressures that drove the Baiji to extinction.
The sanctuaries will also protect a range of other endangered species the make their homes in the Sundarbans.