Hi, I am a Ganges River Dolphin. Though I mainly live in water, you might have seen me on television and in books, swimming, splashing around and even performing stunts. I am a creature of water and over the centuries my ancestors have been living in different water bodies across the world.
I also have many names. For instance, I am also called the blind dolphin, Ganges susu, Gangetic dolphin, hihu and side-swimming dolphin just to name a few. However, scientists have a different name for me and they call me Platanista Gangetica. I am one of the four ‘obligate’ dolphin species found in the world. They are the Baiji found in Yangtze river in China, the Bhulan in Indus river of Pakistan and the Boto in Amazon river in Latin America. Unfortunately, the Baiji species has not been sighted for years, hinting at its extinction.
I have many cousins with similar body features like mine and which might also confuse you. But don’t worry, there is one feature which I have and none of my cousins have—my snout-like nose. So the next time you face any difficulty in recognizing me just look at the nose. The snout is long and thin. We have a stocky body and large flippers to help us swim. While my eyes don’t have a lens but they still help me look for food. It is because of the absence of a lens in the eyes that we are called the blind dolphin.
We always tend to swim on one side of the water body so that our fins are in contact with the muddy side. This helps us on finding found and it is because of this behavior that we are sometimes also referred to as the side-swimming dolphin. The Ganges River dolphins are mammals so we cannot breathe in water. Thus, we surface out of the water every 30-120 seconds to breathe. The female Ganges River dolphin is larger in size than the male one and can grow up to 2.67cm, while the male dolphin grows up to 2.12cm in length. Our skin is greyish brown in colour however when we are born our color is lighter.
An important fact about us dolphins is that we are only found in freshwater habitats. We like living in deep pools located at the river deltas. In India, we are found in rivers which flow through plains. If you live in India, you can spot us in states through which Ganga and its tributary Brahmaputra flow. These states are Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, West Bengal, Bihar, and Jharkhand. Across the globe, we are only found in India, Nepal, and Bangladesh.
Another interesting fact about us is the way we catch a prey. As we cannot see, we emit an ultrasonic sound. When this sound reaches the prey and we form an image of the animal and then catch it. You must also know that we are one of the most intelligent mammals on earth.
Way back in the 19th century, the Ganges River dolphins used to move around in ‘large schools’ or groups, swimming close to urban areas where the river flowed. However, these groups have now grown smaller and we can also be spotted sometimes swimming alone. We mainly eat smaller fishes and invertebrates like prawns, clams and catfish.
The Ganges Rover dolphins also play an important role in maintaining the ecological balance. As we are at the top of the aquatic food chain, adequate number of river dolphins ensures greater biodiversity in the river system, thereby helping in preserving the ecological balance. Presently, there are around 1,200 to 1,800 Ganges River dolphins in the world, as per estimates by World Wildlife Fund.
While I enjoy living in India, a sad part about the country is that our numbers are slowly going down. If the trend continues, then we might soon even become extinct. The IUCN Red List Of Threatened Species categorises Ganges River dolphins as endangered. Our numbers have gone down due to reasons like indiscriminate fishing, loss of habitat due to rapid construction of dams and barrages across rivers and direct killing. Many of us die every year after getting entangled in huge nets used for fishing net. Then there are some ruthless poachers who kill dolphins to extract oil for medicinal purposes. More than 50 dams have been constructed over Ganga in the last few decades, which have led to our displacement from our natural habitat. Such construction leads to changes in quality of water, deposition of sediment and changes in flow of water, leading to habitat transformation.
Shailesh is post graduate in Environment Management from Forest Research Institute (FRI) University, Dehradun, India. Presently he is working in the areas of Environmental and Renewable Energy Advisory Services. He has started GreenCleanGuide.com during his college days.