Three Indus River Dolphins Fitted with Satellite Tags in a Pioneering Study in Pakistan

Posted on 20 January 2022

Karachi, 20 January 2022: WWF-Pakistan in collaboration with the Sindh Wildlife Department safely placed satellite tags on three stranded Indus River dolphins in Sukkur that were rescued from irrigation canals and were released back in the Indus River. The Indus River dolphin is an endangered species, but with the joint efforts of the Sindh Wildlife Department and WWF-Pakistan over the last two decades, their number has increased to 2,000 individuals from 1,200 in 2001. This success has been achieved despite knowing little of their movements and behaviour in the river.
 
This is the first satellite tagging initiative of river dolphins in Asia, making it a great milestone. The three dolphins that were tagged are two adult females whose body length is 2.2 metres and 1.85 metres respectively and a young male with a body length of 1.12 metres. This was a pioneer initiative with the aim to experiment and ascertain if the tagging of dolphins works efficiently and properly. Given that Indus River dolphins come out of the water for very short periods of time, and the river is naturally high in silt, the effectiveness of establishing the satellite connection was uncertain. But it works: successful transmission of data is occurring as we speak. 

The data from the tagged dolphins can answer many questions about the behaviour of the species by tracking their movement, understanding habitat use and showing how effectively these dolphins move through barrages, how much they travel in a day, when are they more active and if there is any difference between the movement patterns between males and females. Answering these vital questions can significantly help in the long-term conservation of this endangered species. The dolphins were tagged with the utmost care as the team included a veterinarian that administered local anesthesia to the dolphins before applying the tags. 
 
The preliminary satellite data received from the tagged dolphins appears to be promising as we expect to receive more data and pertinent information in the coming days. Dr Uzma Khan, River Dolphin River Initiative, Asia Coordinator, WWF-Pakistan stated “It is a great honor to have led this pioneering study that can reveal a great deal about the behaviour, movement and habitat use of this mystical species, which will help in long term conservation.”
 
Javed Mehar, Conservator Sindh Wildlife Department said “Tagging dolphins is new to Pakistan and we are pleased to contribute to this pioneering study in Asia. If this experiment is successful then the government of Sindh will continue to carry this forward and scale it up”. Rescue of dolphins is an emergency response led by the Sindh Wildlife Department to save stranded dolphins from irrigation canals, since 1992 about 200 dolphins were saved.
Indus river dophin tagged
© Janan Sidhu