Dolphin hotspot a conservation priority

Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins in Bangladesh.
Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins in Bangladesh. (Photo: R & E Mansur/BCDP/WCS)
Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins, one blowing water from its blowhole

A project led by the Wildlife Conservation Society will improve understanding of the ecology and fisheries interactions of Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins (Sousa chinensis) and Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus) in the eastern Indian Ocean – a hotspot of cetacean diversity.

Using photo-identification survey methods in coastal waters of the Bay of Bengal, researchers aim to discover the nature and magnitude of conservation threats from fisheries interactions and global climate change, to the two species.

‘The only previous information on humpback dolphins in Bangladesh was obtained opportunistically during photo-identification work on Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins,’ Mr Brian Smith of the Wildlife Conservation Society said.

‘Funds from the Indo-Pacific Cetacean Research and Conservation Fund will allow us to conduct dedicated fieldwork on humpback dolphins and fully analyse existing data on bottlenose dolphins. We can then apply this information to conservation management.’

Information on dolphin abundance, survival rates, habitat characteristics, ranging patterns, scars and mutilations from fishing gear entanglement, and the density and distribution of fishing gears will be used to develop an effective management plan for both species in the context of local human needs.

Mr Smith said there is wide-ranging support for dolphin conservation from both government, which is developing plans for a protected area network, and local fishing communities, who regard dolphins and other cetaceans as symbols of good luck and companionship. However, both the government and the local fishing communities lack the technical resources to design a science-based protected area network.

‘This project will have a substantial positive impact on cetacean conservation in Bangladesh by providing a thorough base of knowledge on the status of two species that are vulnerable to human impact, and by strengthening the capacity of local scientists and resource managers to address the conservation needs of marine species, Mr Smith said.

‘The latter benefit will be achieved through a strong emphasis on training and long-term mentoring, and the participatory approach we take while conducting all research activities.'

The capacity-building aspect of the project will also benefit other cetacean species that occur in Bangladesh in sufficient numbers for early management interventions to be effective in protecting them. The estuarine and marine waters of Bangladesh are contained within the International Whaling Commission’s Indian Ocean Sanctuary and serve as a vital safety net for cetaceans that are generally less abundant, and at greater risk, in other parts of Asia. These species include the Ganges River dolphins (Platanista gangetica), Irrawaddy dolphins (Orcaella brevirostris), and finless porpoise (Neophocaena phocaenoides).

JILL BROWN

Corporate Communications, Australian Antarctic Division