Mekong Dolphin, a National Treasure of Cambodia
AKP Phnom Penh, November 20, 2020 —
Psod Kbal Trolork or Mekong dolphin or Irrawaddy dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris) is a national treasure of Cambodia which requires participation from all stakeholders in its conservation.
Currently, such species of dolphin is found only in six countries in the world. Cambodia is among the six countries and has the largest population of Irrawaddy dolphins swimming up and down along the Mekong River around Prek Kampi in Kratie province.
Mr. Ouk Vibol, Director of Fisheries Conservation, Fisheries Administration (FiA), Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries told AKP that Irrawaddy dolphin is considered to be one of the most precious living treasures in Cambodia as well as in the world, and the loss of each dolphin has made the conservation team very sad, but also very happy when there is an increase in the dolphin population.
According to Mr. Ouk Vibol, the dolphin population has stabilised without much decrease or increase. There were 80 Irrawaddy dolphins in Cambodia in 2015, 92 in 2017, and 89 in 2020. This is thanks to the cooperation between the FiA and stakeholders such as Kratie and Stung Treng provincial authorities, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and other related institutions since 2001. Under the cooperation, research and conservation projects have been conducted based on the Mekong Dolphin Conservation Strategy focusing on four main activities – conservation, education and dissemination, research and coordination, and cooperation with Laos.
Generally, he added, the Irrawaddy dolphins are named and coded based on their dorsal fin, which varies according to where they live. Only adult dolphins are counted. In 2020, the conservation team took pictures of 89 dolphins, but this number did not include the 25 missing dolphins (discovered in 2017 with respective names and codes). “I believe that those 25 dolphins have moved to another pool downstream […]. In 2020, 7 dolphins have found dead while 7 new calves have been recorded.”
Dolphins are commonly used to measure river health, i.e. the presence of dolphins confirms the good ecosystem and river health of that area,” he underlined. “Dolphins’ presence shows that the area is rich in all kinds of fish and also a warm habitat for many other species of aquatic animals.”
Mr. Ouk Vibol said Irrawaddy dolphin life expectancy is around 30 years old and can grow up to 2.8 metres in length and weight up to 200 kilogrammes. They can reproduce at the age of 7-9 years old.
Dolphin is a mammal, which means they give birth to live young and then produce milk and nurse them for around two years before the baby can catch fish and feed themselves. Once the female is pregnant, she will carry the unborn baby for 14 months before giving birth. Female dolphin gives birth underwater to a single calf, which weight around 10 kilogrammes and 1 metre in length.
In Cambodia, dolphins live only along the Mekong River, from Anlong Kampi (a deep pool up to 45 metres) in Kratie province to the Khone Falls in Laos, bordering with Stung Treng province. Gillnets is a major threat to dolphin populations without counting illegal fishing gears, climate change, water level changing, the decline of fish in the area, etc.
Mr. Ouk Vibol took the opportunity to once again call on the fishing communities as well as the public to engage in preserving the existence of Irrawaddy dolphins in Cambodian Mekong River and the FiA suggested relevant institutions to give full support to all the 72 patrol guards to patrol day and night and educate people who live along the dolphin area to stop putting nets to sustainably protect our dolphins.
Last week, a 2.2-metre-long adult female dolphin of about 27 years old was found dead in Kroch Chmar district of Thbong Khmum province. The specialists group was not able to determine its weigh, nor any signs of physical injuries or gillnet entanglement as the carcass was much decomposed. Based on the preliminary report, the specialists group assumed that the dolphin was stranded away from its home range in Kratie province and could die of old age. A few days later, a calf was also found dead in Kroch Chmar district. A preliminary examination shows that the dead dolphin was a male calf of about 7 days old, 12 kilogrammes and 103 centimetres long. The specialists group informed that no signs of physical injuries or gillnet entanglement have been identified on the carcass, suggesting that the animal died of unknown cause. According to Mr. Ouk Vibol, the two dolphins could be mother and baby.
Irrawaddy Dolphin has been listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species and protected by Royal Government Sub-Decree No. 123 since 2009.
By Phen Rattanak