Population of endangered dolphins rises
By PAUL GARWOOD, Associated Press Writer Wed Jun 7, 11:31 AM ET

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - The population of an endangered species of dolphin living in Pakistan's Indus River has increased in recent years, but the animal remains at high risk of extinction, the scientist leading a conservation project said Wednesday.

Blind Indus Dolphin
Blind Indus Dolphin

The blind, dorsal fin-less Indus River Dolphin, which occurs only in Pakistan, increased in number from 1,100 in 2001 to the current number of around 1,330, according to results of a March-April 2006 survey released in the capital, Islamabad, on Wednesday.

But the fresh water mammal could still slide into extinction if more isn't done to protect its habitat, said Gail Braulik, a dolphin biologist and the British lead scientist of the project, part of the Environment Ministry's Pakistan Wetlands Program.

"A ban on hunting them 30 years ago may have had a positive impact down the line, but part of the Wetlands Program is to investigate ways of relocating dolphins from high population density areas to those of low density," Braulik told The Associated Press.

Researchers found that excessive use of water for agriculture, the spilling of pesticides and other industrial chemicals into the Indus River as well as poor water conservation practices had reduced the dolphins' habitat.

Some 1,200 of the long, narrow-snouted dolphins, including 150 calves, live in a 125 mile stretch of the river between water barges in the central Pakistani towns of Guddu and Sukkur, almost double the 725 spotted in the same area during the 2001 survey.

The remaining dolphins live within four other barged, shallower sections of the Indus River, some 620 miles of which was surveyed by scientists plying the waters in river boats.

Environment Minister Malik Amin Aslam said plans to build five dams by 2016 to collect increasing amounts of thawing northern glacier water flowing into the Indus River will improve the dolphins' environment.

"Glacial melt has gone up 25 percent because of global warming and we are wasting most of this water," Aslam told The Associated Press. "Improving storage capacity instead of flushing the water away will see more available in the river and better water for the dolphins."

The Indus River Dolphin remains one of the world's most endangered species and unlike most other dolphins that live in the ocean, it lives in freshwater. Its evolution saw it develop without eye lenses, leaving it effectively blind.

But the animal's highly sensitive sonar abilities allow them to pass easily through the Indus' hazy, silt-filled waters and to detect and catch fish and crustaceans.

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