The endangered Indus River Dolphin is making an extraordinary comeback!
The “Blind” Dolphin, known locally as the “Bhulan”, has comeback from the brink of extinction in recent years.
In a report released by WWF Pakistan, titled ‘Signs of hope for the endemic and endangered Bhulan”, based on a study conducted by the organization itself, it was noted that the numbers of the Bhulan have risen from only 1200 in 2001 to 1816 in 2017. This comeback can only be classified as extraordinary, and can be attributed to the persistent efforts of WWF Pakistan aimed towards preserving the natural habitat of the animal, preventing overfishing, reducing agricultural pollution, and conducting scientific research on the animal itself.
The Indus River Dolphin, the national aquatic mammal of Pakistan, is a freshwater cetacean species found only in the Indus River system. It is characterized by having a large pointed nose with protruding teeth, a small lump in place of a dorsal fin, large flippers, and a rounded belly. Remarkably the species does not have a crystalline eye lens which renders it almost completely blind. To make up for this lack of sight the species has developed a complex sonar system similar to that used by bats. One other interesting characteristic of the Indus River Dolphin is that it swims on its side to help it catch prey.
The small population of the Indus River Dolphin is vulnerable to many different types of threats. These include shortage of water (water diversion to meet agricultural needs), dumping of agricultural chemicals and fertilizers into river, overfishing, accidental deaths due to entanglement in fishing nets, degradation of natural habitat and the danger of getting caught in canals when water supply is cut off. Another cause of concern for the species is inbreeding, which leads to a lack of genetic diversity.
However, WWF Pakistan is combating these threats using a very thorough education based approach. The organization is educating locals about better management practices regarding agriculture in order to prevent water wastage and chemical dumping. The organization has also educated locals about the detrimental effects of overfishing and has improved the livelihood of local fishermen in order to prevent overfishing. Other methods employed to reduce the threat to the Dolphin species are raising awareness about the importance of the species in the ecosystem, increasing tourism related to Dolphins, and conducting research on the Dolphins themselves in order to better understand and protect them.