Deaths of at least 200 marine mammals including dolphins, porpoise whale and whale have been reported in the maritime border of Bangladesh from 2007 to 2020, as per the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). Most of them were dolphins.
At least 15 dolphins were found dead in Cox’s Bazar beach, Saint Martin’s Island, Teknaf and Inani in 10 months to June, said Moazzam Hossain, the chairman of Save the Nature, an environment conservation organisation.
“Sometimes the fishermen target dolphins thinking there are fish available around them. They spread a fishing net and the dolphin gets caught. It gets injured while trying to free itself.”
In some cases, a dolphin is hurt when the fishermen try to free them from the fishing net with a stick, said Moazzem. Dolphin is a very sensitive animal and cannot bear an injury, which leads it to death, he added.
The authorities should create awareness among the fishermen about the issue, he said.
According to the Wildlife Conservation Act 2012, the Forest Department is responsible for the protection of 12 marine animals, but there is no visible effort on their part to do so, he said.
“At the same time, we can’t just blame them (forest department) as they lack in infrastructure and manpower. It is necessary to form a marine resource conservation and crime prevention unit under a separate wing to conserve the marine flora and fauna,” Moazzem suggested.
The Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock banned fishing in the sea from May 20 to Jul 23 to ensure proper breeding of fish. Many fishermen go fishing defying the ban, killing dolphins, said Sheikh Nazmul Huda, the deputy director at the Department of Environment in Cox’s Bazar.
The beach and nearby areas are secluded and quiet now due to the lockdown and this encourages the marine mammals to stay there but they are falling prey to the fishermen, said the conservationist.
Mihir Kumar Do, the conservation officer of the Forest Department, however, denies the increasing death of dolphins in Cox’s Bazar.
“The news of so many dead dolphins floating toward the beach is incorrect. This has been wrongly spread on social media. We got only two dead dolphins as of now,” he said.
DOLPHIN DEATH TOLL
When locals saw two groups of Indo-Pacific Humpback dolphins playing at Kolatoli and Sugandha points in Cox’s Bazar beach on Mar 23 this year, experts became hopeful about a flourishing marine environment and ecosystem.
But, much to their disappointment, dead dolphins and other mammals began to be found on the Cox’s Bazar and Teknaf coastline from early April.
Save the Nature Foundation has a list of dolphins found dead in recent times.
On May 12, an 11 feet long dead dolphin floated into Shafir Bil at Marine Drive in Teknaf, while another dead dolphin was found at Kolatoli Point on May 20. A third one was found at Laboni Point the following day.
A dolphin was found dead at Shaplapur beach in Teknaf on Apr 4 and another one at Inani beach a day later, with marks of injury on its head and tail tied up with a rope.
The DoE staff and beach workers buried three dead dolphins that floated to the beach in Saint Martin on Feb 22, 23 and 24.
On Sep 16, 2019, an injured Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin was found at Darianagar parasailing point in Cox’s Bazar. It died after the rescuers failed to get assistance from government agencies to save it.
Recently, some more dead dolphins were found in different parts of Teknaf and Ukhiya upazila, according to Save the Nature Foundation.
A dead Bryde’s whale floated to the Golarchar point in Shahporir Dwip on Jun 22, while an injured whale was caught at Cox’s Bazar beach on Jun 14. Later, the locals pushed the injured whale back to the sea.
The experts were not sure if that injured whale was the same one found dead on Jun 22.
Another dead whale was seen floating in the sea at Saint Martin’s Island in January this year.
MARINE MAMMALS FOUND IN BANGLADESH
Bangladesh has seven types of dolphins available in its rivers and maritime borders, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society.
These are Ganges dolphin, Irrawaddy dolphin, Indo-Pacific Humpback dolphin, Bottlenose dolphin, Spinner dolphin, Spotted dolphin and Rough toothed dolphin.
The finless mammal called porpoise whale, another type of dolphin is also found in the country.
According to a WCS survey in 2006, Bangladesh had around 1,000 Ganges dolphins including 300 dolphins in Halda, the Karnaphuli river and the Sundarbans. Irrawaddy dolphins were around 6,000 in number, while 2,200 Bottlenose dolphins and 1,400 finless porpoise are also in existence. No figures on the other types of dolphins were available.
Bangladesh has three sanctuaries for dolphins—Dhangmari, Chandpai and Dudhmukhi; it also has a marine protected area in the Swatch of No Ground (SoNG-MPA) and Nijhum Dwip.
Three types of whales are found in the maritime border of Bangladesh, said the WCS. These are False Killer whale, Bryde’s whale and Sperm whale.
WHAT TO DO
Dead mammals need to be autopsied to find out what is causing them to die, believes Prof Saidur Rahman of Marine Science Institute of Chattogram University. Also, the experts should be involved in the investigations, he said.
“This will leave a record and help the authorities to design their future work plan,” he said.
As the Forest Department lacks in logistics and manpower, it should opt for coordinated initiatives with the Department of Fisheries and Coast Guards in order to conserve the marine flora and fauna, said Dr Mohammed Jahangir, the country representative for the WCS.
The authorities should create more marine protected regions, he said.
The Wild Life Conservation and Safety Act 2012 has a provision of three years in jail or Tk 300,000 in fine for those killing dolphins or whales. Persons collecting trophy or body parts of marine mammals can be punished with two years in jail or Tk 100,000 in fine.