It’s no common knowledge but there are hundreds of dolphins in the Ganges river in India.
Sadly, despite being the world’s first species to enjoy protection—more than 2,000 years ago, during the reign of Emperor Ashoka— its population has steadily shrunk to 2,000 from around 6,000 in the early 1990s.
Research on the Gangetic dolphin, like the mammal itself, has been difficult. Efforts to track their underwater movements and behaviour have been difficult in the muddy river, often hindering conservation plans.
The Ganga stretch from Bijnor to Narora, however, holds hope as the dolphin population has gone up from 22 to 57 due to conservation efforts by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) India.
The WWF runs programmes for dolphin protection and conservation, and also to allow people to adopt and sponsor dolphins around the world.
Now, a joint research project by the WWF, the University of Tokyo and IIT Delhi at Narora in Uttar Pradesh plans to unravel more about its behaviour through a specially-designed acoustic hydrophone which can observe and send data over mobile networks to a web-server.
“It will help us understand more about the dolphin whose social interaction is little known. This will prove useful in the conservation of the species,” says Yamaki Ura from the University of Tokyo.
With its long thin snout, rounded belly, stocky body and large flippers, the Gangetic dolphin is a delight to watch.
Also referred to as the Susu because of the sound it produces while breathing, it also has a characteristic whistle and emits clicks which help it to echo-locate its prey. Though its eyes lack a lens, it still uses them to navigate. Being a mammal, it cannot breathe in water and surfaces every 30-120 seconds.
The new equipment will help detect dolphins from a few hundred metres away and provide precise details about their communication skills. “Soon people can go online and see their underwater movements as well as hear ultrasonic sounds in real time as the dolphins chase prey,” says Dr Sandeep Behera, chief coordinator, Freshwater Species and Wetlands Programme, WWF India. With science on its side, survival should be easy.