The deaths of a number of Irrawaddy dolphins killed by illicit electro-fishing has led to renewed calls from the public and celebs for their protection.
Although electrifying water to stun fish is illegal, no one has been arrested after five dead animals turned up in recent weeks, leading to public outcry over the harm done to the dolphins which inhabit the river from which they get their name, as well as the Mekong River and other coastal areas.
A new petition is calling for designating the “Critically Endangered Irrawaddy Dolphins and Irrawaddy River Basin” a UNESCO World Natural Heritage site, and figures such as Myanmar-born MMA champion Aung La N Seng are campaigning for their protection.
Though it was a decade-high number, only 79 of the beloved national symbols were counted in Myanmar in February, including seven calves aged 3 months and younger, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society of Myanmar. They live along the Irrawaddy River around Mandalay, Mingun, Sagaing and Bhamo.
Two months ago, the body of the female calf was found between Mandalay and Bhamo while a 1-year-old female calf was found dead in the Sein Pan Gone community in Mandalay region’s Madaya township, and another female’s body found last month at Singu, Pyin Oo Lwin. All told, at least five deaths have been have been blamed on electro-fishing boats.
While people are demanding, farming them is a less popular solution. Wildlife advocates last month condemned a government plan to breed the dolphins in captivity for commercial uses along with other species endangered species. Two years ago, a dolphin protection zone was extended in response to several suspected killings by fishermen.
And it’s not a new issue. Five years ago, famed Hong Kong actor and director Jackie Chan pleaded for help saving the dolphins and stopping electro-fishing in the Irrawaddy, Myanmar’s largest river and most important waterway. “Please, you must help me stop electro-fishing,” he said in a recorded campaign clip.
That year, the Irrawaddy Dolphin Protected Area was established between Mandalay and Sagaing. It was the country’s first protected marine area, which has approximately 25 dolphins that are highly sought by regular overnight eco tourism groups.
Historical records show that the dolphins have lived alongside local fishermen and helped them with their catches for nearly 2,000 years. If they go extinct, fisheries will collapse due to environmentally damaging fishing methods, and crops will suffer too. There are fears their disappearance could drive up the price and scarcity of food.
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