Fix the laws to save the dolphins


New and more liberalised fisheries law of the Sindh province has jeopardised the existence of the rare sweet water mammal, Indus River Dolphin, as it encourages more people to get fishing license than before, which resulted in that as many as 40 dolphins were reportedly found dead in the River Indus last year.
These observations were made by the marine mammal expert and International and Policy Programme Director of the United States’ Marine Mammal Commission Dr Peter Thomas, while speaking to Pakistan Today in an exclusive interview here on Friday.
Dr Thomas underscored that there was dire need of better control and management of fishing activity at the River Indus as increased number of fishermen resulted in increased number of dolphin mortality. He pointed out “The Indus River Dolphins are very very unique, but endangered species. These are among three river mammal families, which are found in China, India-Pakistan and South America.”
He revealed that the similar freshwater dolphin–Baiji–that found only in the Yangtze River in China had already been become extinct, due to massive industrialisation and heavy use of river for fishing, transportation and hydroelectric. A survey was conducted by 30 researchers for six-week in 2006, but found not even a single Chinese river dolphin, he maintained.
Though, he believes, the available data about Indus river dolphin may be incorrect due to unprecedented flood in the recent years, but circumstances for the freshwater mammal are not favourable. Surveys results show that some 1,600-1,750 dolphins were witnessed in the River Indus in 2006, but their population dropped to 1,300-1,400 in 2011 survey, despite efforts to conserve the endangered species, he pointed out.
He further highlighted that the range of Indus River Dolphins used to be 3,500 kilometres throughout Pakistan, but currently it had shrunk to merely 550 kilometres. Building of new barrages and dams would definitely have implications for sweet water dolphins and would have very strong environmental impact, he warned.
Responding to a question, Dr Thomas said, “As with many countries, including the United States, laws are in place, but it is very difficult to have funding and institutions to enforce and implement those laws. Sometimes people lack will to implement those laws.”
He observed that in Pakistan, fisheries, wildlife, forestry and environment agencies were very aware of the Indus River Dolphins and threat to them, but they have difficulty of having resources, like enough people, expertise and budget.
Dr Thomas agreed that Pakistan needed an inexpensive power generation capacity to deal with the acute energy shortage, but he believed that despite meeting other demands, Indus River Dolphins could be conserved. “I do believe that there are options to conserve dolphins as requirements of dolphins are similar to the requirements of people. If we maintain the flow of water in the River Indus, even after meeting all other demands, which are essential for the environment, for the people and for the fish habitat, dolphins can be conserved,” he maintained.
He underlined that he completely recognised that there was a huge demand for all these water resources for agriculture, for industry and for the people to drink and sanitation, so there was a huge pressures on it and this pressure was going to get greater with climatic changes.
Dr Thomas indicated that global warming would be the big environmental issue of the tomorrow. Several studies had warned that the world could have unpredictable and harsh climate. Recent flooding the Pakistan might be the result of climatic changes, but with better planning and well-coordinated efforts such problems could be addressed, he added.
Speaking about the research, he said, “I think the field of science is very international now. With email and internet scientist collaborate very quickly and effectively around the world. A university of any size is part of the larger scientific endeavour and Pakistani scientist and academia should also take the advantage of modern developments,” he concluded.