Burma

Giant Myanmar Irrawaddy Dolphin Died of Old Age: Environmentalists

By DE HLAING WIN 9 January 2020

MANDALAY – An Irrawaddy dolphin was found dead on Tuesday in Madaya Township, Mandalay Region, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). 

The male dolphin died of old age and was 220cm long and 132cm in circumference, the NGO said. 

U Hkyaw Hla Thein, who is responsible for dolphin conservation at the WCS, said it was about 6cm longer than the next biggest dolphin they had found.  

“Its teeth show it was quite old and, to confirm it, we examined its stomach and found it was empty. We do not know how long it had been since it ate. So we concluded it died of old age,” he added. 

The Fisheries Department and WCS said it was the biggest dolphin ever found dead between Mandalay and Bhamo. 

Some residents and civil society organizations suggested the dolphin died because of electrofishing. 

“Fish are abundant where the dolphin was found dead, which attracts electrofishers. And there are also fishing lakes in the area. Those working at the fishing lakes downstream said the dolphin died due to electrofishing,” said U Maung Maung Oo, leader of the Sein Yaung So environmental group. 

Fisherman U Maung Lay of Sin Kyun Village also suggested that the dolphin died of electrofishing. 

The deaths of Irrawaddy dolphins are mainly attributable to fishing using electricity, mines, poison and restricted fishing nets, according to U Maung Maung Oo. He also called on the authorities to take harsher action against illegal fishing in the protected area. 

“The deaths can be reduced either by enacting a separate law on dolphins or by the Parliament enforcing the existing protected area for dolphins,” he said. 

The dolphin will be stuffed and displayed in a museum. 

As the Irrawaddy dolphin is classified as an endangered species, the Kachin, Sagaing and Mandalay governments and the Fisheries Department, WCS and civil society organizations are working to conserve them. 

The Ayeyarwady River along with the Irrawaddy dolphin were included in the Unesco World Heritage tentative list in 2014 because the unique culture of cooperative fishing between humans and dolphins is regarded as of outstanding universal value. 

As part of conservation efforts, the authorities and civil society organizations educate residents about the damage caused by illegal fishing while the police say they patrol the protected areas. 

Although the law threatens up to three years in prison for fishing using electricity, mines, poison and restricted fishing nets, violators are only given one to three months in prison, according to the WCS. 

The protected area was established in 2005 and spanned 72 kilometers of the Ayeyarwady River from Mingun near Mandalay, north to Kyaukmyaung in Sagaing Region. In 2018, the area was expanded from Katha to Shwegu, stretching 119 kilometers. It was expanded again to cover Kachin State and Sagaing Region. 

The Fisheries Department and WCS have conducted annual dolphin population surveys in the protected area. A total of 76 were spotted in 2018 and 74 in 2019. The next survey is due in February. 

According to the Mandalay Region Fisheries Department, three Irrawaddy dolphins died in 2017, six in 2018 and three in 2019. In December, two baby dolphins were found between Mandalay and Kyaukmyaung.

 Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko

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