Dolphins Get Their Day

January 19, 2011

WCS’s Bangladesh Cetacean Diversity Project promotes public awareness of two threatened dolphin species in the Sundarbans.

This month the Shushuk Mela, meaning “Dolphin Exhibition,” celebrates Bangladesh’s large number of threatened dolphins. Sponsored by WCS’s Bangladesh Cetacean Diversity Project (BCPD), the event’s organizers will travel to the country’s coastal mangrove forest, visiting fishing communities to promote the conservation of the area’s many dolphins, whales, and porpoises.

The Sundarbans mangrove forest lies along the edge of the Bay of Bengal, where the Padma River, a tributary of the Ganges, meets the sea. The area is one of few remaining hotspots for the rare Irrawaddy and Ganges River dolphins, which face extinction in most of their natural range. In 2008, WCS helped discover about 6,000 Irrawaddy dolphins in the Sundarbans, the largest population of their kind. The BCPD works with local communities to help protect these cetaceans and others over the long term.

“By building a strong constituency of support for dolphin conservation that also incorporates human needs, efforts to save these iconic species have a genuine chance of success,” said Brian D. Smith, director of WCS’s Asian Freshwater and Coastal Cetacean program. “With a successful effort, Bangladesh can serve as a critical safety net for cetaceans whose populations are disappearing elsewhere in Asia.”

More than 10,000 people attended the first Shushuk Mela held in Dhaka in 2008. For this month’s event—running from the 15th to the 31st—a wooden vessel will visit communities nearby three proposed wildlife sanctuaries. The event organizers hope to raise awareness of how the region’s coastal mangroves help buffer the effects of climate change, such as rising sea levels. Additionally, they are showing how monitoring the health of the area’s dolphins can serve as a sentinel for changing environmental conditions. On board the craft will travel life-size dolphin replicas, films, photographs, games, and educational materials promoting the protected areas.

“The enthusiasm demonstrated for cetaceans at the first Shushuk Mela was incredible,” said Elisabeth Fahrni Mansur, BCPD’s education director. “We expect even greater interest from fisherman living in local communities who consider these animals to be their companions on the river and at sea.”

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