Mekong River Dolphin “Functionally Extinct” in Laos

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The population of critically-endangered Mekong River dolphins—also known as Irrawaddy Dolphins—in the Cheuteal trans-boundary pool between southern Laos and northern Cambodia has shrunk by 50 per cent this year alone. The population is functionally extinct in Laos, according to WWF.

Irrawaddy dolphin (Orcaella Brevirostris) at Koh Kon Sat, Mekong River, Cambodia, 2007. Pic credit: Fernando Trujillo / WWF Greater Mekong

Irrawaddy dolphin (Orcaella Brevirostris) at Koh Kon Sat, Mekong River, Cambodia, 2007. Pic credit: Fernando Trujillo / WWF Greater Mekong

Fernando Trujillo / WWF Greater Mekong

WWF survey teams from Laos and Cambodia conducted a dolphin abundance survey and confirmed the current number and breeding status of the dolphins in the transboundary pool. Down to just three individuals–from six just earlier this year–there is now little hope for a reversal of the situation, as the small population is no longer viable.

“Functional extinction” results when there are too few potential breeding pairs available to ensure the survival of the population.

The use of gill nets—especially unmanned gill nets—is thought to be one of the main reasons for the demise of the dolphins. Gill nets are vertical panels of netting set in a straight line across a river to catch fish. Being large aquatic mammals, Mekong River dolphins – as well as other endangered aquatic species— are often caught in gill nets, and drown as a consequence.

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