Critically endangered dolphin population increases

The population of critically endangered river dolphins in the Mekong has risen from 80 to 92 in the past two years, the WWF has announced. It is the first increase since records began.

After decades of decline in river dolphin numbers in the Mekong, results from a WWF and Government of Cambodia census have unveiled promising findings.

The population of Irrawaddy dolphins has risen for the first time in more than 20 years, increasing by 10 per cent since 2016.

Effective river patrolling by teams of river guards and the strict confiscation of illegal gillnets, which accidentally trap and drown dolphins, are the main reasons for the increase, explained WWF in a statement.

Over the past two years, 358 kilometres of illegal gillnets – almost double the length of the dolphins’ remaining home range – have been confiscated from the core dolphin habitat.

“The tour boat operators are the secret ingredient in this success story as they work closely with law enforcement to report poaching and help confiscate illegal gillnets,” commented Seng Teak, Country Director, WWF Cambodia.

The first official census in 1997 estimated that there were 200 Irrawaddy dolphins in the Mekong, a figure that fell steadily due to bycatch and habitat loss until there were only 80 left in 2015.

“River dolphins are indicators of the health of the Mekong River and their recovery is a hopeful sign for the river and the millions of people who depend on it,” explained Teak.

“We celebrate this good news, but now is not the time for complacency. As threats to their survival persist, we need to re-double our efforts to protect the dolphins both for their future and that of the river and communities that live alongside it.”

The surveys covered 190 kilometres of the main channel of the Mekong River from Kratie in Cambodia to the Khone Falls complex in Laos.

Photo credit: Jim Davidson/ CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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