New Ganga cruise and the threat to Gangetic dolphins

As per the last available estimates, there are almost 3200 dolphins in the Ganga river and around 500 in the Brahmaputra in Assam. (Pic: Wikimedia Commons)

By Team TA

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on January 13, 2023, flagged off the world’s largest river cruise, MV Ganga Vilas, from Varanasi in UP. The cruise which is set to sail over two major rivers, Ganga and Brahmaputra, will cover 4000 km in 51 days to reach its destination of Dibrugarh in Assam, via Bangladesh.

While calling this “a landmark moment” in the history of tourism in India, PM Modi did not find it important to mention the threat that the cruise poses to ‘highly endangered’ species of Gangetic dolphins (or Ganga river dolphins) in the region from where the cruise is scheduled to sail.

As per the defined route of the cruise, it will be passing through some of the most sensitive and protected regions of dolphin conservation. Kaithi village, 30 km from Varanasi, is one such place and some reports suggest the presence of almost 35 to 40 dolphins in this area. Vikramshila Gangetic Dolphin Sanctuary in Bihar is another such area where dolphins are found. As per the last available estimates, there are almost 3200 dolphins in the Ganga river and around 500 in the Brahmaputra in Assam.

Gangetic dolphins are enlisted as ‘highly endangered species’ under Schedule I of Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. It was in 2009, when the then-Manmohan Singh government declared dolphins as the national aquatic animal of India and subsequently launched the National Dolphin Action Plan in 2010 to boost efforts to protect their natural habitats and conserve them.

The freshwater dolphins – like Gangetic dolphins – are completely blind. They navigate their way and find prey through a mechanism called ‘echolocation’ in which they send sound waves and their brain intercepts the signals to tell about the objects present around them. Activities like dredging, water and noise pollution, reduced water flow, siltation, and alteration of river systems are some key factors that hinder the operational capacities of this freshwater mammal.

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