Thailand population

Low dolphin population ‘worrying’

Low dolphin population ‘worrying’

Huge fishing nets considered a factor

A pod of Irrawaddy dolphins swims in Songkha Lake.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Varawut Silpa-archa expressed concern about the low population of Irrawaddy dolphins in Thailand and urged all parties to step up efforts to help protect the species in critically endangered.

Citing a 2020 survey, the minister said there were only 14 Irrawaddy dolphins in Songkhla Lake and 89 in the Mekong, while around six of the dolphins were found dead on a beach between 2006 and last year.

Mr Varawut said the cause of death of these mammals could not be definitively proven as their carcasses were badly decomposed by the time they were found.

He said the number of Irrawaddy dolphins found dead ashore decreased in 2015, indicating that a campaign from 2014 to 2015 to encourage fishermen operating in Songkhla Lake to avoid using huge fishing nets to catch giant catfish had paid off.

At the time, various conservation efforts were carried out to encourage fishermen to stop using huge fishing nets, which are believed to injure or kill Irrawaddy dolphins when used.

“One of the main activities was offering to buy these giant fishing nets – [which are] about 1.5 to 3 kilometers long – thanks to funds raised by various organizations,” Mr Varawut said.

“It seems to have worked given that fewer dolphins were found caught in giant fishing nets.”

But he said the trend didn’t last.

“Between 2020 and last year, at least two Irrawaddy dolphins were found dead in a huge fishing net after some fishermen used it to catch giant catfish in Songkhla Lake,” said Mr. Varawut.

The Mekong giant catfish was first introduced to the lake by various organizations many years ago to boost their population, he said.

As time passed and many catfish grew, fishermen started making giant nets to catch them because the fish fetched a high price, he said.

The practice, he said, is a real threat to the lake’s Irrawaddy dolphin population and persists despite warnings about the environmental effects.

He said freshwater dolphins were only found in the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar, the Mekong River in Laos and Cambodia, the Mahakam River in Indonesia, Chilika Lake in India and Songkhla Lake in Thailand.