Dolphin poaching goes unabated

Times of India , Friday, April 15, 2011
Correspondent : Alok K N Mishra, TNN

PATNA: Despite Gangetic dolphins being an endangered species, they are being killed at an alarming rate in Bihar.

"More and more fishermen are using oil extracted from dolphins for fishing. April is one of the peak months for fishing and several fishermen in the state capital can be found using dolphin oil for better catch," said India's Dolphin Man, R K Sinha.

Talking to TOI, Sinha said about 25 to 30 dolphins are being killed every year in the state. As per forest department data, in the state capital alone five dolphins were killed in 2010, three in 2009 and only one in 2008.

"The amount of dolphin oil being used by fishermen is a clear indication that dolphins are being killed. Otherwise, its oil would not be available," Sinha added.

Poaching continues unabated along the Ganga in other parts of Bihar where awareness is relatively low, according to experts.

Dolphin oil attracts two unique species of fish - "Bachhaba" and "Gheruwa" - which are sold at premium prices. "Both these species are very tasty and have very few bones. They are sold at Rs 250 to Rs 300 per kg. It is one of the main reasons why fishermen use dolphin oil," said Zoological Survey of India scientist Gopal Sharma.

Experts estimate the current number of Gangetic dolphins at around 2,000. The World Wide Fund for Nature ( WWF) says that in the 1980s, there were around 3,500 dolphins in the Ganga delta region alone. Researches, however, show that 95% of dolphin deaths are directly attributed to man-related causes.

According to night guards stationed at the newly-constructed food plaza in Ganga diara, fishermen use large nets for fishing. "Large nets are not allowed here. But beat officers of the forest department only sometimes come to keep vigil and fishermen stealthily use large nets during night to catch large amount of fishes," said a guard.

Confusion about territorial jurisdiction among forest officials also adds to the problem. "Ganga diara comes under the jurisdiction of Saran district. But we also have to keep a watch on dolphins found in these areas. Actually it is the job of the forest department of Saran district," a forest official said in the state capital, requesting anonymity.

"The Gangetic dolphin is to river what a tiger is to forest. It plays a vital role in maintaining the essential balance of river ecosystem. Its declining status is a matter of serious concern. It is critical time to focus attention on improving its status soon," said Gopal Sharma.

Gangetic dolphins, one of the four freshwater dolphins in the world, are protected animals under the Schedule 1 of Wildlife (Protection) Act-1972.


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