According to National Geographic, one of the rarest dolphins in the world have started rebounding in Pakistan. In a secluded part of a quiet riverside park, Lab-e-Mehran, in the Southern city of Sukkur, the endangered Indus River freshwater dolphin, known as bhulan in the Urdu and Sindhi languages, is increasing in numbers.
The Indus River dolphin is one of the only four freshwater dolphin species left on Earth, but the conditions in Pakistan are less from ideal for them even now. For instance, in the Lab-e-Mehran park, a dam at the western end restricts the dolphins’ ability to travel freely during the monsoon season, which is a crucial part of their life-cycle.
Similar constructions of diversion dams, called barrages, throughout the rest of the country has destroyed the dolphins’ habitat. Most of these barrages were built in mid-20th century to provide irrigation and control flooding, which have now been repurposed for power plants. The diversions are now not only cutting off the dolphins’ ability to migrate, but can also lead to dangerously low water levels.
The 200-pound Indus dolphin once swam across the Indus River and all its tributaries, all the way from the snow-capped Himalayas to the Indus delta near the Arabian Sea. Now it occupies only about 20% of its original range. The few remaining dolphins are mostly concentrated in Sindh, in a 410-mile stretch of river between the Guddu and Kotri dams.
In addition to dams, water pollution, particularly from industrial waste being dumped into the Indus Rive, poses a a grave long-term threat to the dolphins.
According to Uzma Khan, Asia coordinator for WWF’s River Dolphins Initiative, there is currently a rigorous government program educating local communities and rescuing stranded dolphins, which is steadily increasing their numbers. The most recent WWF survey shows there are now 1,987 dolphins in Pakistan, compared to only 132 in 1972.
Another small population of at least seven dolphins lives an Indus tributary in India, called the Beas River.
Khan said, “If you go downstream from the Guddu [barrage], and you keep sailing, there comes a point where you see dolphins everywhere around you. It’s overwhelming because they’re everywhere.”
She also stated that “it’s a situation which can be challenging, because all these dolphins are just in one stretch of the Indus River.”