Rare Indus dolphin rescued and tagged in Pakistan
Indus River dolphin being rescued and fitter with a satellite tag. Credit EAD
Tagged Indus dolphin reveals they can cross barrages
April 2009. An Indus River Dolphin, nicknamed Musafir (traveler) by the staff that found it, was rescued, tagged and successfully returned to the Indus River near Sukkur Barrage in Pakistan by World Wide Fund for Nature-Pakistan, in collaboration with the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD) and the Sindh Wildlife Department.
The endangered dolphin was fitted with a radio transmitter so that scientists can better understand the movements of these rare dolphins.
Trapped in a canal
Musafir, a young male, 2.5 years old, weighs 18 kg and measures 118 cm in length, was found trapped in Mirwah Canal emerging from the Sukkur Barrage in Pakistan. He was spotted by staff from Sindh Wildlife Department in January 2009.
After the dolphin was rescued, it was weighed, sexed and measured. An initial medical assessment was undertaken by recording the condition of its teeth, mouth, the colour of mucous membranes, and signs of external injuries and scars, skin condition and body condition. A radio transmitter was then fixed to its dorsal fin.
Indus River dolphin facts
• The Indus River Dolphin (Platanista minor), endemic to the Indus River of Pakistan, is also known as the blind dolphin.
• It is one of the world’s rarest mammals and second most endangered freshwater river dolphin.
• The eyes of the Indus Dolphin can only differentiate between light and dark, therefore dolphin use echolocation or sonar system to effectively see its environment and locate its prey and communicate with other dolphins.
• Indus River Dolphins use a side-swimming behaviour; they feel the bottom of the River with the help of nerve endings at the edges of their flippers.
• A survey conducted in 2006 estimated that there are only around 1,341 left.
• They are threatened by water pollution (due to domestic, industrial and agrochemicals pollutants), commercial fishing, and degradation of the habitat due to water infrastructure development and diversion of water for agriculture without maintaining minimum environmental flows in the river.
• Some accidentally die after becoming trapped in irrigation canals or fishing nets.
Rejoined a group of dolphins
Musafir was then transported carefully to the release site. During its transportation, the animal was closely monitored for any signs of stress. Respiration and heartbeat were checked throughout the transportation. To avoid hyperthermia (often referred to as heat stroke or sunstroke and occurs when the body produces or absorbs more heat than it can dissipate), Musafir was covered with wet towels, except for his blowhole. Soon after being released in the Indus River, Musafir joined a group of dolphins that were present in the area.
First Indus River dolphin to be tagged
"River Dolphins are among the most threatened mammal species in the world. This is the first time in history that an Indus River Dolphin has been tagged and we are very proud to be a part of this conservation effort. Our biggest challenge in fixing the transmitter was the size of the dorsal fin. Unlike marine dolphin species, the size of the dorsal fin is very short in river dolphins," said Dr. Arshad Toosy, Scientist Veterinarian at EAD.
Dr. Arshad Toosy added that dolphin is being tracked twice daily and its movement is being closely monitored. Care is being taken so as not to affect the behaviour of the dolphin during tracking.
Dolphins crossing barrages
"So far, we have collected very interesting telemetry data on Musafir’s movements. It was originally believed that the upstream movement of the dolphins was restricted by the barrages. However, according to our tracking results the dolphin (Musafir) has managed to cross the Sukkur barrage moving both ways downstream and upstream. This gives us the first scientific proof that these dolphins are capable of crossing the barrage even during the low water flow," added Dr. Arshad.
As per its continued commitment to support regional and International organizations in ex-situ and in-situ conservation activities, medical assistance during the rescue operation and training of staff on how to fix the transmitter and conduct radio-tracking was provided by the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi.
Young Indus River dolphin fitted with a satellite tag. credit ead