The government of Bangladesh has created three new wildlife sanctuaries for the endangered Ganges River and Irrawaddy freshwater dolphins, the last two remaining species of freshwater dolphins in Asia.
Working with the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) to identify key habitat for the dolphins, Bangladesh officials created the sanctuaries in the Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove ecosystem. The three sanctuaries will protect the dolphins in 19.4 miles of mangrove channels with a total of 4.1 square miles — a small area that WCS biologists characterized as the start of a wider effort to save the dolphins. No precise numbers exist on the number of remaining Ganges River and Irrawaddy dolphins, although in 2009 WCS scientists discovered a population of roughly 6,000 Irrawaddy dolphins. The two dolphin species have suffered severe population declines because of fatal entanglements in fishing gear and the depletion of their prey as huge amounts of fish and crustaceans are caught as by-catch in fine-mesh “mosquito” nets used to catch fry for shrimp farming.