Project Dolphin: Why is it important to save a declining river species?

Context: In his Independence Day Speech this year, Prime Minister of India announced the government’s plan to launch a Project Dolphin.

  • The proposed project is aimed at saving both river and marine dolphins.


What is the Gangetic dolphin?

  • Gangetic river dolphins are found in the rivers systems of Ganga, Brahmaputra, Meghna and Karnaphuli- Sangu in Nepal, India and Bangladesh.
  • It is the only surviving freshwater dolphin in India.
  • The Ganges River dolphin is classified as endangered by the IUCN Red List and has been included in Schedule I for the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
  • Being a mammal, the Ganges River dolphin cannot breathe in the water and must surface every 30-120 seconds.
  • Because of the sound, it produces when breathing, the animal is popularly referred to as the ‘Susu’.
     Their eyes lack a lens and therefore function solely as a means of detecting the direction of light.
  • It uses echolocation to navigate and hunt. Like bats, they produce high-frequency sounds which help them ‘see’ objects when the sound waves bounce off them.
  • The species is found exclusively in freshwater habitat.
  • River Dolphins are solitary creatures and females tend to be larger than males. 
  • The Ganges River dolphin (Susu) is among the four “obligate” freshwater dolphins – the other three are: the baiji now likely extinct From the Yangtze River in China, the human of the Indus in Pakistan and the boto of the Amazon River in Latin America.
  • Obligate species: Restricted to a particular condition of life; for example, dependent on a particular habitat to be able to breed
  • Although there are several species of marine dolphins whose ranges include some freshwater habitats, these four species live only in rivers and lakes.
  • The Vikramshila Gangetic Dolphin Sanctuary (VGDS), from Sultanganj to Kahalganj on the Ganga in Bihar is the only dolphin sanctuary in the country. National Waterway-1 connecting Haldia to Varanasi passes through it.
  • The National Mission for Clean Ganga celebrates October 5 as National Ganga River Dolphin Day.
  • Special Conservation program needs to be taken up for Gangetic Dolphin which is national aquatic animal and also indicator species for the river Ganga spread over several states.

Have other governments used aquatic life as an indicator of the health of a river system?

  • Salmon used to migrate from the North Sea to the Rhine every year and reproduce, but this stopped when pollution increased in the river.
  • After a chemical accident in 1986 that caused the death of fish and microorganisms, the Rhine Action Plan (1987) was launched. This led to an improvement in the quality of the river water, and the salmons began to return.

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