Gangetic Dolphins

India Lost 10 More Gangetic River Dolphins In One Year

(Feature Image: Post mortem being done of a dolphin carcass found at gate number 01 of Girija barrage in Bahraich, UP. Image Source: Dainik Bhaskar, Nov. 2022)

May 18, 2023, would mark 13 year of declaration of Gangetic dolphin as a national aquatic animal. However, the habitats of this ‘highly endangered’ species continue to suffer anthropogenic threats including wrong operations of dams & barrages, inland waterways projects, decreasing flows & increasing pollution in rivers, sand mining and poaching etc. in India. As a result, there are frequent incidents of mysterious and unnatural deaths of these fresh water mammals.

SANDRP has been tracking such incidents since January 2020 and our previous two reports published in January 2021 & April 2022 on the subject have complied deaths of at least 21 Gangetic dolphins in 2 years (2020 and 2021). In continuation of the same, this account covers the incidents of deaths of Gangetic river dolphins during past one year.


November 2022: A carcass of gangetic dolphin was found near gate number 3 of Chaudhary Charan Singh Girija barrage in Katarnia ghat wildlife sanctuary in Bahraich district on November 21, 2022. The dolphin was trapped in shallow water and died of heart attack as per the post mortem report. For detailed examination the viscera of the dead body was sent to Animal Research Institute, Bareilly.

The report also mentions that the last census had found about 56 Gangetic river dolphin in the Gerua and Kaudiyala rivers flowing through the sanctuary however the water level have decreased at many places around dolphin habitats and this was second incident of Gangetic dolphin’s death in a month’s time.

Kailashpuri dam is built at the confluence of these rivers and downstream the confluence the river is known as Ghaghara. The Girija barrage is part of the dam project to control water flows in canal branching off from western bank.

Before this, corpse of gangetic dolphin was found at gate number 01 of the same barrage on November 1, 2022. As per the post mortem report, the corpse was of a 1.97 metre long female dolphin aging around 10 year and it had died of suffocation after a cat fish was struck in its throat.

On March 14, 2021 too, dead body of a female Gangetic dolphin was found floating near gate number 32 of Girija barrage. The report said it was pregnant and had died due to fetus infection. Previously, a dead body of dolphin was found struck at gate number 3 of same barrage on February 28, 2020. Similarly, on October 03, 2015, a dolphin was found dead at gate number 3 of Girija barrage. So there are at least five known, recorded instances that we know when this barrage seems to have caused the deaths of Gangetic dolphins.

October 2022: As per October 4, 2022 report, a gangetic dolphin was found dead in Saryu canal near Kot Mubarakpur village under Gilola area in Srawasti district. As per the villagers the canal was full with flowing water during night and gradually decreased by the morning.

श्रावस्ती के गिलौला क्षेत्र में सरयू नहर के किनारे एक डॉल्फिन मृत मिली।  Dainik Bhaskar, Oct. 04, 2022

They assumed that the dolphin might have found it difficult to flow back in the canal due to decline in water level. They even mistook it as some giant fish. However, officials had no idea on how the species landed on the shore of canal. The dead body was sent for post mortem by the forest department to find out the cause behind the death. 

January 2023: A large Gangetic dolphin lost its way and entered the Sagra canal in the Lalganj area of neighbouring Pratapgarh district sometime on January 20, 2023. The villagers noticed the species on January 21 and informed the forest department after which it was rescued on January 22.


January 2023: As per a January 21, 2023 report, carcass of a four feet long dolphin was found on the banks of the river Ganga downstream of a pontoon bridge at Gopalpur Diara in Vaishali district. The juvenile looked healthy and had no injury mark on its body. Officials assumed sudden shock as a possible reason behind the death.  

 बिहार में गंगा नदी किनारे एक डॉल्फिन का शव बरामद होने से एक बार फिर पर्यावरणविदों की चिंता बढ़ गई है।  NBT, Jan. 21, 2023

A corpse of dolphin was found near Jamidari ghat in Judavanpur village under Bindupur police station of Hajipur district on January 21, 2023. The villagers informed the administration about the incident after which the forest department sent the body for post mortem to find out reason behind the death of the endangered mammal.

September 2022: Corpse of a dolphin with multiple injury marks was found on Ganga river bank in Nagwachia area under Ismailpur police station of Bhagalpur district on September 13, 2022. The area between Sultanganj and Kahalgaon is part of dolphin sanctuary despite this the national aquatic animal was not safe.

Though forest department has posted some dolphin mitras (friend of dolphins), 3 dolphins have been found dead in the area in past six months. Before this, a dolphin was found dead in same area in March 2022. This September 14, 2022, Hindi report also mentioned about suspicious deaths of 3 gangetic dolphins in past 6 months in Bhagalpur.


April 2023: Carcass of a fully grown dolphin was found along Bhagirathi river near Kabirajpur in Nadia district on April 29, 2023. As per the report, the 12 year old female dolphin had died after getting strangulated in thickly knitted fishing gill nets. The report further mentioned that in past three years at least 14 dolphins have died within 45 km stretch of the river stretch between Katwa in East Burdwan and Nadia mostly due to gill nets and motorized boats.

March 2022: A dolphin died in Ganga river after being hit by a motorized passenger boat in Kolkata on March 12, 2022. 


September 2022: A carcass of an endangered Gangetic Dolphin was found off the river Dikrang in Lakhimpur’s Bihpuria on September 25, 2022. The body of the dead aquatic mammal was discovered in the shallow waters of Dikrong in Dongeebeel in Bihpuria. A deep cut mark was found on the back of the dead river dolphin believed to be attacked by fishermen.

May 2022: A carcass of a Gangetic dolphin was found floating in the Pahumara river in Barpeta district on May 21, 2022. The forest department suspected that the Dolphin weighing around 70 kg died after getting caught in a fishing net. An autopsy of the Dolphin was conducted but most of the organs of the dolphin had decomposed.

A carcass of a Gangetic dolphin was found floating in the Pahumara river in Barpeta. NN, May 21, 2022

Before this, carcasses of 2 Gangetic dolphins, suspected to be killed by poachers were recovered from Salpara under Kamrup West Division on September 2, 2021. The DFO said since the carcasses had started decomposing, the remains were buried in the presence of an authorised officer with proper documentation of the proceedings.

Summary Table: Gangetic dolphin deaths between May 2022 & April 2023

SNDateLocationRiverCause of death
121 Nov. 2022Girija barrage, Bahraich, UPGerua & KodiyalaHeart attack after getting trapped in shallow water.
201 Nov. 2022Girija barrage, Bahraich, UPGerua & KodiyalaSuffocation after cat fish stuck in throat.
304 Oct. 2022Kot Mubarakpur village, Srawasti, UPSarda canalStranded in canal following decrease in water level
421 Jan. 2023Gopalpur Diara, Vaishali, BiharGangaSudden shock
521 Jan. 2023Judavanpur village, Bindupur PS, Hajipur, BiharGangaUndisclosed
613 Sept. 2022Nagwachia,  Ismailpur PS, Bhagalpur, BiharGangaMultiple injuries
729 April 2023Kabirajpur, Nadia, W BengalBhagirathiStrangulation in fishing nets
812 March 2022Kolkata, W BengalGangaHit by motorised boat
925 Sept. 2022Bihpuria, Lakhimpur, AssamDikrangAttack by sharp weapon
1021 May 2022Barpeta, AssamPahumaraStrangulation in fishing nets

Thus, on the basis of media reports, we could track the death incidents of at least 10 Gangetic dolphins in India between May 2022 & April 2023. Of total deaths, 3 each have occurred in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar and 2 each in West Bengal and Assam. The death toll includes a March 2022 incident from West Bengal which was not covered in previous analysis by us.

Of the total deaths, 4 have taken place in main stem of Ganga including 3 in Bihar and 1 in Kolkata, West Bengal while 4 other deaths have occurred in Ganga river system including 2 at Girija barrage in Bahraich, UP, 1 in Sarda canal in Srawasti, UP and 1 in Bhagirathi river in Nadia, West Bengal in this period.

The reports also suggest human activities directly responsible for 7 of these deaths which include strangulation in fish nets (2), hunting (2), accident by motorized boat (1), trapping in canal (1) and reduced flows (1). While suffocation and sudden shock are reported as causes for 2 more deaths, in 1 case the reason have not been disclosed by the report.

In spite of these incidents, the respective governments and concerned agencies continue to ignore the plight of the endangered species and push projects detrimental to habitats and survival of national aquatic animal as is evident from some relevant reports listed below.

Some Relevant Reports

SANDRP Blog Riverbed mining destroying freshwater species In absence of credible impact assessments, accountable governance systems, transparent monitoring mechanism; the riverbed miners and mafias have been raging havoc on river eco-system and fresh water species in India. The habitats of endangered gharials and turtles in Chambal; gharials in Mahanadi; Mahseer fish, turtles in Narmada; Gangetic dolphins in Ganga and Brahmaputra rivers; Smooth-coated otters in Cauvery rivers and fish, water birds in Yamuna and Jhelum rivers have faced destruction round the year.   (20 Jan. 2023)

Report The Living Planet Report 2022 by WWF states that freshwater populations have declined the most, with an average decline of 83 per cent between 1970 and 2018. There are at least 17 species of freshwater turtles that are dying. The population of the Gangetic Dolphin is threatened due to the discharge of pollutants into the river. Even wild water buffaloes found in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh are in the danger zone.  (14 Oct. 2022)

Will India lose dolphins in silence? Unplanned development and increasing anthropogenic pressures have made this home a death trap for the magnificent creature, which is also India’s national aquatic animal. The constant stranding in the multiple barrages over the Ganga-Brahmaputra-Karnaphuli river systems and the ambitious Inland Waterways project have threatened the existence of this endangered species.

While efforts continue, several anthropogenic factors still continue to threaten the endangered dolphin population. Since 2016, when the Central Government announced Inland Waterways on river Ganga, concerns have been raised that the project will threaten the Gangetic Dolphins and their habitat. Experts have warned that dredging activity for inland waterways might disturb the dolphins and other species and cause irreversible damage.

A study conducted by researchers Mayukh Dey, Jagdish Krishnaswamy, Tadamichi Morisaka and Nachiket Kelkar has established that an increase in underwater noise due to motorised vessels resulted in major alterations to acoustic responses, strong masking of echolocation clicks, and high metabolic costs to river dolphins in the Ganga River.   (25 Jan. 2023)

Longest cruise’ could threaten endangered dolphin “The cruises are a dangerous proposition in addition to all the existing risks for the dolphins,” said Ravindra Kumar Sinha, whose conservation efforts led the government to designate Gangetic dolphins as a protected species in the 1990s. Jagdish Krishnaswamy, an ecohydrologist from the Indian Institute for Human Settlements in Bangalore, said: “The underwater noise pollution due to the increased traffic of cruise, cargo vessels and mechanised boats interferes with the echolocation clicks making their very existence arduous.”

There are also fears over high vibrations and noise from dredging operations to maintain minimum depths for navigation of cruise vessels on the NW-1 Ganges route. Sunil Kumar Chaudhary, a member of Bihar State Ganga rejuvenation, protection and management committee, said: “Unlike the ocean, river landscape is restricted, and dolphins do not have a vast area to manoeuvre at the time of dredging activity.”

Avli Verma, a researcher at Manthan Adhyayan Kendra said the government had set aside necessary environmental safeguards in favour of an “ease of doing business” approach. “If precautionary conservation principles are not applied today, waterways will not be sustainable in the long term. You cannot promote cruises on Ganga as eco-tourism, while endangering the habitat and the existence of Gangetic dolphins.”  (13 Jan. 2023)

Green humour on Ganga river cruise threat to Gangetic dolphins. (20 Jan 2023)

Communities involvement could mitigate threats to dolphin River pollution, dams and indiscriminate fishing are among the threats to the Ganga river dolphin. The fishing community could play an important role in conserving the dolphins in Ganga but there are several challenges such as delayed pay and lack of official recognition of their role. There are various projects by the government to protect the national aquatic animal and transboundary cooperation could help further the species protection in the region.  (03 Aug. 2022)

Govt must do more to save Ganges dolphin Senha MahaleThere are several threats to the dolphin’s population, the biggest being the declining flow in the Ganga due to the dams and barrages. Also, water-intensive agriculture in the basin results in the base flow petering out, leading to fragmentation of their habitats. Industrial and human pollution has also led to degradation of their ecosystem.  (01 April 2023)

Madhya Pradesh NBWL to decide water level needed for Chambal sanctuary The move followed after Dr. H S Singh, one of the members of the SC-NBWL, during a SC-NBWL meeting held on October 11, opposed Madhya Pradesh Government’s proposal entailing diversion of 0.95 ha of forest land from the sanctuary for construction of intake well, approach bridge and water pipeline.

Dr Singh pointed out that the WII had earlier submitted a report that the flow in Chambal during late winters and summers reduces a lot which is not sufficient for survival of dolphins and therefore the Standing Committee had decided not to consider any such proposals in the past for taking water from the Chambal river.

As per wildlife experts, the number of dolphins in Chambal river has been reduced by 13% in 4 years. There are just 68 dolphins left in the Chambal river sanctuary. As per the WII, the minimum flow required to sustain the ideal habitat for gharial in Chambal river, is 151-165 m3/sec and for the dolphin 266.42 – 289.67 m3/sec. But in December 2017 when WII again monitored the discharge of Chambal river, it found flow had receded to 67 m3 /sec.

In 2011, the SC-NBWL had said that no new projects would be considered for withdrawing water from Chambal river which is already witnessing receding water flow. A report prepared by a team led by Superintendent, National Chambal Sanctuary, Sheopur which inspected the site on July 4, 2019 too had red-flagged such projects..  (23 Nov. 2022)

Govt to make mining legal in parts of Chambal sanctuary The Madhya Pradesh govt has proposed to open 292 hectares for mining in five stretches on Chambal and its tributary Parvati rivers. Sand mining has been banned in the sanctuary since 2006. In a December 2021 proposal submitted to the MoEF-CC, the state said opening up the five stretches would minimise the conflict with illegal miners, gain local support, and fetch revenue from royalty, a fourth of which can be used to strengthen protection.

– Spread across three states, National Chambal Sanctuary (NCS) runs along a total stretch of 435 km of Chambal and its tributary Parvati in Madhya Pradesh. An important bird habitat, NCS is home to the critically endangered gharials, river dolphins, mugger crocodiles and several rare turtle species.  (21 June 2022)

Bihar Forest dept halts RFD work Bhagalpur Smart City Limited officials, along with other private agencies, were constructing the riverfront in the area under the Vikramshila Gangetic Dolphin Sanctuary (VGDS) in Bhagalpur in violation of Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. The concretisation work was being done without any permission from the forest department.

RFD construction site is close to dolphin sanctuary considered safe hub for endangered dolphins. DTE April 29, 2022

Construction of concrete buildings has been prohibited within 200 metres along the bank of Ganga, Singh said. In case of the riverfront construction in VGDS, it is a matter of serious concern. The NGT has also barred construction of buildings within 200 metres along the bank of Ganga. Sources in Bhagalpur Smart City Ltd said the forest dept decision to stop construction of the riverfront was informed to the concerned dept in Delhi for early clearance to restart the work.  (29 April 2022)

Dolphins trapped in fishnets & false beliefs As the population of the Ganges river dolphins declined alarmingly, a 60-km stretch along the river in Bhagalpur district was notified as Vikramshila Gangetic Dolphin Sanctuary in 1991. But, three decades later, the endangered species continues to face the threat of extinction and in the last six months three dolphins were found dead in the sanctuary. (17 Oct. 2022)

Assam Govt forgets dolphins after tagging it Guwahati city animal Gangetic River Dolphin was announced as the Guwahati City Animal after a survey conducted by Kamrup (Metro) Administration in association with other departments like Forest and Tourism; after 2016 till date no initiative was taken by the authorities including the city administration, Forest and Tourism Departments as the present officials are unaware of such declarations.  (14 Jan. 2023)

Gangetic dolphins decline in the wake of anthropogenic pressures  Brahmaputra and the tributaries Kulsi and Subansiri are strongholds of the endangered Gangetic river dolphin. However, local communities and researchers note decline in populations. Dolphins in the Kulsi river are affected by relentless mechanised sand mining on the banks. The construction of dams in several regions in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh cut through dolphin habitats and limit the access to prey. Dolphins are more or less extinct in the Barak river system, with a handful found in tributaries such as Kushiyara and Soorma.  (24 Aug. 2022)

Dolphins in Kulsi river continue to suffer The river network in Assam also has been playing a crucial role in providing livelihood to lakhs of fishermen but the indiscriminate sand mining has destroyed the ecology of several rivers in the state resulting in a decline in fish production not just in these rivers but also the floodplain wetland of these rivers. Fish stock in the Kulsi river, for instance, and Dora beel, famous for its natural stock of fish and huge fish production, has depleted posing a threat to the survival of the population of state aquatic animal-river dolphin, locally known as Xihu. The fish productivity of Dora beel has declined alarmingly as the flow regime of Kusli has changed due to the destruction of the river bed and the process of auto-stocking of fish seeds in the beel by the river has been adversely affected. (7 Dec 2022)

Punjab Indus dolphin added to list of endangered species The aquatic mammal has been included in Schedule I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. The Department of Forest and Wildlife Preservation had been pushing the case of Indus river dolphin, which was discovered in Harike and the lower Beas river system in 2007. Earlier, it was believed that Indus River Dolphin had become extinct in India, for it was not sighted for a long period.

Indus river dolphin (platanista gangetica minor) was thought to be a subspecies of Ganges dolphin (platanista gangetica gangetica). However, recent scientific studies have established that Indus river dolphin is a separate species with the name “platanista minor”. A comprehensive survey and population estimation carried out by the department in partnership with the WWF India put the number of Indus dolphins at seven to nine.  (30 Aug. 2022)

MoEF Oct 5 to be designated as National Dolphin Day The decision to designate a National Dolphin Day was taken by the standing committee of the NBWL according to a statement by the environment ministry. “It is true that dolphins need community conservation. They also need a minimum flow in the river and less underwater and overwater noise. River projects like waterways or even river interlinking need to take dolphins into mind. India is as important for the Ganges river dolphins as it is for the tiger- most of the global population is here. A day is a good step but the real work will be in letting rivers flow with clean water and saying no to projects that break up rivers,” said Neha Sinha, conservation biologist and author.

A WWF-India and the Uttar Pradesh forest department assessment in 2012 and 2015 recorded 1,272 dolphins in the Ganga, Yamuna, Chambal, Ken, Betwa, Son, Sharda, Geruwa, Ghaghra, Gandak and Rapti. “Due to multiple threats, including pollution, water diversion, habitat fragmentation, and bycatch, the Ganges river dolphin is seriously threatened. Several major infrastructure projects within its region will impose a real risk for catastrophic population decline in the future,” states the US based National Marine Mammal Foundation.  (22 March 2022).

NMCG will study the life cycles of dolphins and the hilsa population in the Ganga to ascertain the health of the holy river at different sections, a senior official said.  (11 June 2022)

Compiled by Bhim Singh Rawat (  

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