Bangladesh’s 120km-wide belt of coastal and deep-sea waters could be one of the richest global hotspots of whales and dolphin activity, research by the US-based Wildlife Conservation Society and the local Bangladesh Cetacean Diversity Project reveals.
The study findings were disclosed at a briefing at the Dhaka Reporter’s Unity on Wednesday.
The two organisations are holding a four-day interactive exhibition and film show on whales and dolphins, “Introducing whales and dolphins of Bangladesh,” beginning today at the Bangladesh Shishu Academy in Dhaka.
“We have been conducting our study since 2002 and over this long period, we have identified that the estuarine and coastal areas and deep-sea are safe places for around 8,000 dolphins of different species,” Rubaiyat Mansur, the principal researcher, said at the briefing.
“The species ranged from Ganges River dolphins or Shushuks, Irrawaddy dolphins, finless porpoises to spinners, as well as Pantropical spotted dolphin,” he said.
The briefing was also addressed by Benazir Ahmed, project supervisor and professor of zoology at Chittagong University, Brian D Smith, project director, Elisabeth Fahrni Mansur, education and training coordinator, Tanjilur Rahman, a filmmaker, and Zahangir Alom, project coordinator.
Benazir Ahmed said, “The diversity of cetaceans and abundance we have recorded is remarkable and indicates that a large population of these species remain in our waters.”
The Irrawaddy dolphin population in Bangladesh is probably the world’s largest, possibly by an order of magnitude, he observed.
The prime cetacean habitat extends across the world’s largest contiguous mangrove forest in Sundarban National Park and offshore to a 900-plus-meter deep undersea canyon known as the Swatch-of-No-Ground.
Benazir Ahmed opined, having this biggest habitat of dolphins and whales, Bangladesh can be one of the most important destinations for tourists if the possibility of this resource can be explored and utilised properly.
He, however, expressed his concerns about the ecological dangers to whales and dolphins, saying, “The long-term prospects of these special animals in these waters is endangered by increasing threats, both natural and manmade, and that includes incidental killing in gillnet fisheries, depletion of prey due to loss of fish and crustacean spawning habitat and toxic contamination from large, upstream human population centres.”
Brian said an additional threat was declining freshwater flows from upstream extraction in the River Ganges and sea-level rise resulting from global climate change.
The experts, both local and foreign, urged the government to take immediate initiatives to conserve cetaceans “the scientific grouping of whales and dolphins” forming a protected area network, transforming it into a resource which earns foreign exchange.
The exhibition which runs during October 9-12 is targeted towards creating awareness of the wealth of marine diversity the country has and emphasising the importance of its conservation, the organisers said.