The Indus River dolphin, locally known as bhulan is an obligate freshwater cetacean species found in the Indus River, Pakistan. A flagship species, this dolphin is an indicator of the biological health of the aquatic and terrestrial environment adjoining the Indus River. It is the second most endangered freshwater dolphin species in the world, the first being the 'functionally extinct' Yangtze River dolphin. The current distribution range of the Indus River dolphin is about a 1,000 km stretch of the Indus River which includes the main Indus channel and active channels connected to it between Jinnah and Kotri barrages.
The existing population of Indus River dolphin is about 1,800 dolphins found between Chashma and Kotri barrages in the Indus River.
Indus River Dolphin / Indus Blind Dolphin
Platanista gangetica minor
Maximum 2.5 m (males are smaller than females)
70 - 110 kg
Endangered (EN)- IUCN Red List Status
Indus River System in Pakistan
The government of Sindh designated a 200 km stretch of the Indus River between Guddu and Sukkur barrages as the Indus Dolphin Reserve in 1974. It is a legally Protected Area with the largest population of Indus River dolphins. It is also an important bird area and an internationally recognised Ramsar site. The reserve was also designated as a Ramsar site because of the presence of a wide spectrum of associated biodiversity.
The Indus River dolphin is characterized by a long beak, rounded belly, stocky body, very small dorsal fin and large flippers. This species is also referred to as the 'blind dolphin' as its eyes haven't developed a lens. It relies on echolocation to find fish, shrimp, and other prey in the bottom mud.
The Indus River dolphin swims on its side, at times enabling it to move in water as shallow as 30 cm. As it swims on its side, it trails a flipper along the bottom of the river. After 30 to 60 seconds, when it needs to breathe, it swims to the surface, rotates upright to take in the air, and then rotates 90 degrees again as it swims back to the bottom. It migrates upstream into the smaller tributaries during the monsoon rains and migrates downstream to the main channels in the dry season.
The Indus River dolphin was distributed in a wide range, once found in the Indus River and in its major tributaries in Punjab's Sutlej River, Chenab River, Ravi River and Jhelum River, but is now confined to the main channel of the Indus River. Water regulatory barrages constructed on the Indus River are responsible for the highly fragmented population of Indus River dolphins confining it into five sub-populations. Fragmented sub-populations may face hazardous impacts of inbreeding, which can lead to significant loss of genetic diversity. Shortage of water and water diversion to meet agricultural needs of the country resulted in extirpation of Indus River dolphin from upper reaches of the Indus River. Increased days with zero flow downstream of Kotri Barrage restricted dolphin populations from moving further southwards significantly limiting the distribution range.
Accidental mortality of Indus River dolphins is attributed to entanglements in fishing nets as by-catch of fish and unsustainable fishing practices. A large number of mortalities also occured after the devastating flood of 2010. Intensified fishing practices also resulted in the highest mortality in year 2011.
Stranding of dolphins in irrigation canals particularly in low flow season is detrimental to its existing population. Fishing season and canal closures also increase the risk of dolphin mortality when the mammal becomes stranded in small pools in canals.
Contamination of river water due to agrochemicals and industrial waste significantly contribute to the deterioration of the Indus River dolphin's core and potential habitats.
What is WWF-Pakistan doing?
WWF-Pakistan is protecting and conserving the Indus River dolphin, through a community based conservation approach:
- Minimising direct causes of dolphin mortality by rescuing stranded dolphins and minimising wildlife crime;
- Introducing sustainable fishing practices to maintain healthy aquatic ecosystem;
- Introducing better management practices in agriculture sector to minimise water pollution;
- Creating awareness regarding the importance and ecological role of aquatic species such as dolphins;
- Improving livelihoods of fisher communities to reduce pressure on natural resource use;
- Enhancing dolphin based ecotourism to create awareness among the general public by organizing Dolphin Safaris; and
- Conducting scientific research to better understand Indus River dolphin's population and its habitat.
SUPPORT WWF-PAKISTAN IN SAVING INDUS RIVER DOLPHINS
About a decade back, when WWF-Pakistan initiated conservation work for the Indus River dolphin it was close to extinction. It is with the support of our partnersthat the number of this endangered freshwater cetacean has now increased to 1,800.
But the Indus River dolphin still faces many threats. From educating communities about sustainable fishing practices to monitoring irrigation canals to rescue stranded dolphins, WWF-Pakistan is addressing these threats.
Support us today, and help our work to protect the Indus River dolphin in its only habitat.