Critically endangered dolphins

The Ganges dolphin (Platanista gangetica) is one of the critically endangered animals of Bangladesh and one of the red listed mammals in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

It is one of the four fresh water dolphin species in the world with no actual number of the remaining dolphins. It is really hard to imagine that the playful dolphins or "Shusuk" that once roamed and somersaulted the river Padma by hundreds in schools of 4 to 5 just off the bank, are hardly ever seen nowadays in the Padma. There are also a very few books and journals and internet sites where one can find information on these animals.

Loss of breeding grounds, construction of barrages over the river Ganges and drying up of the river at the downstream of Farakka, the number of Gangetic dolphins has diminished drastically. The Gangetic dolphins have been a creature of amusement for the people living on the bank of the river.

The fishermen used to collect fat of the dolphin to use those as medicine for rheumatism and many other diseases. Quacks used to purchase dolphin oil from fishermen at a handsome price. Two species The Gangetic dolphins grow six feet long with toothy snout and a rubber like skin. It has a blowhole on the top of its head. There are two species of fresh water dolphins in Bangladesh, both are on the verge of extinction. According to Professor Sarwar Jahan, Chairman of the department of Environmental Science of Rajshahi University, after the Farakka Dam was built, the Gangetic dolphins began to disappear as the water flow through the river Padma reduced drastically.

As a result, the Padma at the downstream, once enriched with biodiversity having thousands of species, is now a dried up sand bed with a thin flow even in full monsoon. Once the turbulent Padma with its grayish mineral-rich water is now dried up like a desert with tiny patches of water here and there.

When asked, a few of the spectators and some local fishermen in Rajshahi informed that they saw some of the dolphins in the Padma earlier but for last ten years or so they do not remember seeing any. Fishermen also informed that they used to catch those dolphins for medicinal properties. The oil derived from fat of dolphins is believed to cure back and leg pains and the skin of dolphin is valued for curing epilepsy though no proof of the claim is found anywhere.

On the other hand, scientists believe the meats of most dolphins are hazardous for human consumption. This was first noticed in Japan where dolphin meat was being sold like whale meat which caused fatal consequences and hospitalisation. Still, the meat of dolphin was a delicacy for many of the aboriginal people in Bangladesh. No step whatsoever was ever taken to save these animals as their main breeding ground, the Padma, dried up.

The warm water of the river Padma is ideal for breeding and raising young Susukhs and to find food -- it is a thin stream. The mighty river that was once spectacular is no longer a river now. It is now dead with its beautiful animals and fishes. It is hard to imagine, the crocodile, gharial and shusukh, all these big predators once roamed here.

If we lose the fantastic dolphins, our next generations will never know that there were once playful dolphins just off their homes. Sarker Shariful Islam, a journalist who won the Water Journalism Fellowship, informed that the disappearance of dolphins is attributed to their habitat and catching of those magnificent animals.

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