New Delhi: The critically endangered Ganges river dolphin has been declared India`s national aquatic animal, a government spokesperson said here Tuesday. The India chapter of World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) estimates only about 2,000 of these dolphins remain.
The spokesperson of the Ministry of Environment and Forests said the main reasons for the decline in the dolphin numbers to a critically low level were "poaching and habitat degradation due to declining flow, heavy siltation and construction of barrages causing physical barrier for this migratory species".
The decision to declare the Ganges river dolphin India`s national aquatic animal was taken Oct 5 last year during the first meeting of the newly-constituted National Ganga River Basin Authority, the spokesperson added.
According to the WWF, the dolphins are to be found in rivers of seven states -- Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal. Their ideal habitats are in the Ganga, Chambal, Ghaghra, Gandak, Sone, Kosi, the Brahmaputra and Kulsi rivers.
The spokesperson said Ganges river dolphins have been included in the Schedule-I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, "thereby affording them the highest degree of protection". The WWF said despite this, "the absence of a coordinated conservation plan, lack of awareness and continuing human pressure are posing an incessant threat to the existing dolphin population".
Now their important habitats have been declared protected areas, the spokesperson said, adding: "Financial and technical assistance is (being) provided to the state governments under centrally sponsored schemes for conservation and protection of wildlife including dolphins and their habitat."
"Financial assistance is (being) provided for conducting scientific research on the habitat, behaviour, population status of river dolphins," he added.
The Ganges river dolphin has a sturdy, yet flexible, body with large flippers and a low triangular dorsal fin. It weighs up to 150 kg. The calves are chocolate brown at birth and become greyish brown in adulthood with a smooth and hairless skin. Females are larger than males.
The maximum recorded size of a female is 2.67 metre and of a male 2.12 metre. Females attain sexual maturity at an age of 10-12 years, while the males mature earlier. The gestation period is 9-11 months and a female gives birth to only one calf, once in 2-3 years.
Dolphins are among one of the oldest creatures in the world along with some species of turtles, crocodiles and sharks. Ganges river dolphins are generally blind and catch their prey in a unique manner. They emit an ultrasonic sound which reaches the prey. The dolphin then registers this image in its mind and subsequently catches hold of its prey.