Despite being declared National Aquatic Animal and provided highest level of protection under schedule I of Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, there are frequent incidents causing unnatural deaths to Gangetic river dolphins (Platanista Gangetica) in India.
Previously SANDRP documented deaths for 10 Gangetic dolphins due to man-made reasons including getting trapped in canals, fishing nets and hunting during 2020. Here we are tracking the issue January 2021 onwards.
Uttar Pradesh March 2021 A 2.10 meter long and 11 year old Gangetic river dolphin was found dead on March 14, 2021 near gate number 32 of the Girijapuri barrage under the Katarniyaghat Wildlife Sanctuary in Bahraich district. The post-mortem report revealed that the female dolphin was pregnant. Her baby had died in the stomach spreading the infection. Most of the dolphins in the state are found in the Kaudiyala river which passes through the sanctuary. Despite this, forest department lacks plans for their conservation.
May 2021 A dolphin that strayed into Sharda canal was killed by villagers in Sitapur on May 16, 2021 evening. The incident happened when some residents of Dahirapur and Takiya Sultanpur hamlets in Hargaon police station area were fishing in Sharda canal. The villagers later sliced the mammal and distributed it among themselves. Earlier, three persons were arrested for beating a Gangetic dolphin to death with rods and axes at Kothariya village in Nawabganj police station of Pratapgarh on December 24. 2020.
Some related reports In May 2021, scientists at Doon-based Wildlife Institute of India expressed fears regarding the Gangetic river dolphins and gharials in the Ganga being infected by Covid-19 mainly by the corpses of those who died due to the disease.
A November 8, 2021 Hindi report quotes local, expert claiming a family of 6 dolphins has migrated from its habitat along Ekdala ghat in Fatehpur district due to jitters caused by under construction bridge work and increase in water pollution in Yamuna river.
Bihar March 2022 Corpse of a dolphin was found on the bank of Ganga near Ismailpur Purani Durga temple in Navagachia area of Bhagalpur district on March 04, 2022 which is part Vikramshila Gangetic Dolphin Sanctuary (VGDS) India’s only River Dolphin Sanctuary. A plastic rope was tied at the bottom of the dolphin’s snout and a bamboo peg was visible at the other end of the rope.
According to Deepak Kumar, a dolphin expert, this happens when a fisherman wants to keep the fish in a live state for a few days. In such a situation, he releases it into the water by tying it with a rope. It is being speculated that the same must have happened with this dolphin. It managed to escape by uprooting the peg but failed to open the noose which would have led to its death. As per another report it was a female dolphin aging around 20-25. After the incident the DFO visited the location and started investigation into the issue.
July 2021 Carcass of a one year old dolphin was recovered in the midstream near the Barari Ghat in Bhagalpur which comes under the VGDS on July 17, 2021. The VGDS, a 60km stretch of the Ganga from Sultanganj to Kahalgaon, was declared a protected area in 1991. A departmental investigation was initiated to ascertain the exact reason for the death. As per Bharat Chit Palli, DFO, the carcass was in a precarious condition and was almost three-day-old.
Use of fishing net in the Ganga for fishing purposes is banned. Accidental deaths of dolphins from the propeller of boats and steamers have been a major concern for the forest department officials. According to forest department sources, 5 Gangetic dolphins were killed in 2006. After the 2006 incident, the recovery of dead Gangetic dolphins from time to time, including one in June 2019, had alerted the forest department.
Quoting Sunil Chaudhary of Tilkamanjhi University, Bhagalpur a Down to Earth report dated March 11, 2022 mentions that fishing nets have become the most common reason behind Gangetic dolphin’s deaths in Bihar. The species is also killed for its oil to be used as fishing bait and as a cure to arthritis. Construction of dams and barrages has resulted in decrease in flows and depths both essential factors for the survival of dolphins.
In addition to this, there is increase in water and noise pollution due to untreated sewage and steamers, cargo-ships in the river while monitoring and remedial measures are not upto the mark. According to Deepak Kumar, on an average 8 to 9 dolphins in Bihar are killed due to fishing nets. There is confusion over exact numbers of dolphins in VGDS with three different agencies claiming three different figures. (IWAI 67, ZSI 150 and VGDS 250).
Jharkhand Feb. 2021 A Gangetic dolphin was found dead in river Ganges at the Pranpur Ghat in Sahibganj district near the Jharkhand-West Bengal border on February 11, 2021. DFO Manish Tiwari claimed that the dolphin had died almost a week ago. The death of the dolphin may have occurred due to being trapped in the fishing net but the main cause of the death is yet to be determined, sources said.
December 2020 Earlier, on December 16, 2020, a dead dolphin weighing about 35 kg was also found on the banks of river Ganges near SMC Mining Company in Kaswa Panchayat area of Rajmahal district. The fishing net was also stuck on its body and it was suspected that the mammal died after being caught in the fishing net. The site is proposed for a dolphin sanctuary. Despite this, there are reports of dolphin hunting around the river Ganges. Similar incidents have taken place in Maharajpur (July 2016), Udhwa Bangamganj (January 2018 and February 2018) due to fishing nets.
West Bengal March 2022 Carcass of a Gangetic dolphin was seen near Bagbazar ferry Ghat (Ahiritala ghat) in Kolkata on March 12, 2022. Before this dead body of a Gangetic dolphin was found at Farakka Ghat para in Murshidabad district on 08 March 2022.
February 2022 A Gangetic dolphin was found dead in Bakultala Ghat at Hooghly on 08 Feb. 2022.
Above information and images were shared on Facebook post by Ganesh Chowdhury dated March 13, 2022 however we could not find media reports revealing causes and details of incidents on the same.
August 2021 A 17.38-ftl-ong mature Gangetic dolphin was washed ashore on the Laxmipur sea beach in Bakkhali on August 01, 2021. Fishermen spotted the mammal, gasping for life then, and informed forest department officers. But it died before help could arrive. Divisional Forest Officer (South 24-Parganas) Milan Kanti Mondal said: “The cause of the death could not be immediately ascertained. The mammal was quite aged and could even have died of natural causes.”
Odisha Feb. 2021 Carcass of a Gangetic dolphin weighing about 50 kg and 5.5 feet in length was caught in the net of a fisherman from Kruttibaspur village in Salandi river in coastal Bhadrak district, officials said on February 17, 2021. DFO in-charge of Bhadrak Wildlife Division, Bikash Ranjan Das said in November 2020 a smaller female Gangetic dolphin was found floating in Gobari river of Kendrapara district.
Irrawaddy dolphins A 6 foot-long Irrawaddy dolphin was found dead in Chilika Lake on August 31, 2021. The carcass, enmeshed in a fishing net, was discovered by locals near Kumarpur village within Rambha range in Chilika Lake. “The dolphin might have died after being trapped in an illegal mosquito or fish net,” said Muntaz Khan, a dolphin researcher and assistant professor in the zoology department in Kalahandi University, Bhawanipatna.
This is the 8th dolphin death reported from the state in eight months and has shocked wildlife lovers and forest officials. The body of a female spinner dolphin had washed ashore in Paradip port beach in July 2021 and another carcass of the same species was discovered June 30 at Paradip beach. Dead Irrawaddy dolphins were found floating in the seawater near Konark’s Chandrabhaga beach in Puri on April 8, in the Chilika lake on June 6 and 10. The carcass of a Gangetic Dolphin was caught in the net of a fisher in Bhadrak district February 17 (as mention in previous paragraph). A bottlenose dolphin was found dead on April 22 on the Puri beach.
The carcass of a 4 feet-long male Spinner dolphin (Stenella longirostris) was washed ashore in port town of Paradip within the Bhitarkanika National Park on June 30, 2021, taking the number of marine animal deaths in the state within 5 months to 6. The spinner dolphin is a rare mammal in Odisha as it is an offshore species and is found in deeper waters as part of large schools. It was perhaps hit by some ships or fishing vessels in the sea and after its death, the carcass was washed ashore.
Assam The Kulsi river is a habitat of the endangered Ganges river dolphin, but illegal sand mining and the existence and construction of bridges are altering the water-flow regime, posing a serious threat to the aquatic mammal and to the riparian communities that depend on the Kulsi for their livelihoods. (Front Line, 25 Feb. 2022)
Summary Table of Gangetic Dolphin deaths in 2021
|1||Uttar Pradesh Bahraich||14 March 2021||Gate No. 32 Girijapuri barrage||Kaudiyala||Foetus infection||Female pregnant Gangetic dolphin’s corpse found|
|2||Sitapur||16 May 2021||Sultanpur hamlets||Sharada canal||Stranded in canal & killed by crowd.||A Gangetic dolphin killed by crowd.|
|3||Bihar Bhagalpur||04 March 2022||near Ismailpur Purani Durga temple in Navagachia||Ganga||Fishing trap||Corpse of Gangetic dolphin found|
|4||Bihar Bhagalpur||17 July 2021||Near Barari ghat||Ganga||Unknown||Gangetic dolphin carcass found|
|5||Jharkhand Sahibganj||11 Feb. 2021||Near Pranpur ghat||Ganga||Suspected to be trapped in fishing net||Gangetic dolphin corpse found|
|6||Rajmahal||16 Dec. 2020||Near SMC Mining Company site in Kaswa||Ganga||Fishing net||Gangetic dolphin corpse found|
|7||West Bengal Bakkhali||01 Aug. 2021||Laxmipur sea beach in Bakkhali||Sea shore||Unknown||Corpse of giant Gangetic dolphin found|
|8||West Bengal Kolkata||12 March 2022||Bagbazar ferry Ghat||Ganga||Unknown||Corpse of Gangetic dolphin found|
|9||Murshida-bad||08 March 2022||Farakka Ghat||Ganga||Unknown||Corpse of Gangetic dolphin found|
|10||Hooghly||08 Feb. 2022||Bakultala Ghat||Ganga||Unknown||Corpse of Gangetic dolphin found|
|11||Odisha Bhadrak||17 Feb. 2021||Near Kruttibas-pur village||Salandi||Suspected to be trapped in fishing net||Gangetic dolphin carcass found.|
Summing Up The reports we could come across reveal death of at least 11 Gangetic dolphins (excluding a foetus) in 2021 upto March 2022 in India mostly due to man-made reasons. (The previous compilation had not included Dec. 2020, Jharkhand incident). This is in addition to 10 similar deaths that we could find out in 2020. Of all 4 dolphins have died in West Bengal, 2 each in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar & Jharkhand and 1 in Odisha in this period.
In terms of rivers, 7 of total deaths have taken place in Ganga river. The Sharda canal continues to prove death trap for the endangered species. Dolphins dying after getting trapped in fishing nets has emerged key factor behind untimely fatalities. Similarly, accidental as well as intentional hunting by locals and fishermen remain a cause of concern.
The anthropogenic activities including dumping of Covid infected bodies in Ganga, unsustainable sand mining, over fishing, increase in water way ships and ferries continue to pose as grave threats on the survival and habitats of National Aquatic Animal.
Some incidents from Bangladesh March 2021 The Forest Department recovered a dead dolphin from a shoal of the Bhola River near Sundarbans on March 11, 2021. The dolphin was 4 feet long and 2 feet ten inches wide. Sarankhola range Assistant Conservator of Forests (ACF) Md Joynal Abedin said a trawler driver named Ferdous Molla spotted the dolphin and informed the Forest Department around 2 pm. The dolphin did not bore any injury marks.
December 2021 A Gangetic dolphin was found dead in the Halda River in Hathazari upazila of Chattogram on December 27, 2021 taking the tally to 33 since September 2017. Hathazari Upazila Nirbahi Officer Shahidul Alam said the reason for the death of the dolphin was unknown because it had already decomposed. “The dead dolphin was about three feet long and weighed around 15 kilograms,” said Professor Md Monzoorul Kibria, coordinator of the Halda River Research Laboratory at the University of Chittagong.
Compiled by Bhim Singh Rawat (firstname.lastname@example.org)