In Odisha’s Balasore district, a fisherman discovered a rare and endangered Gangetic dolphin in the Jalaka river on January 18, 2024. Following its capture by a resident of Nalabahara village, the local community released the aquatic mammal into a pond. However, forest department officials intervened to rescue the dolphin from the pond, emphasizing the necessity of returning it to its natural habitat.
Freshwater dolphins, designated as critically endangered and confined to four river systems globally, including the Ganga river, are a cause for concern. According to Sudhakar Kar, a wildlife scientist and former researcher at the Odisha Forest Department, the blind-by-birth Gangetic dolphins possess a greyish body and a distinctive long snout. They are listed as Schedule One protected animals under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, and classified as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List.
Ganesh Prasad Lenka, the forest range officer of Chandipur Forest Range in Balasore, affirmed plans to release the dolphin into the Budhabalang river, emphasizing that ponds are unsuitable for their survival. The presence of a Gangetic dolphin in the Jalaka river has prompted calls for a thorough study by the forest department to assess the population of these rare freshwater mammals, as suggested by Kar.
This recent discovery is noteworthy, considering the last documented sighting of a Gangetic dolphin in the state occurred on October 23, 2020, in the Govari river. The species holds significance in India, where it is found in the Ganga and its tributaries. The announcement of ‘Project Gangetic Dolphin’ by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in August 2023 underscores the nation’s commitment to conserving these dolphins, declared the national aquatic animal of India in 2009.
The forest department’s historical efforts in studying and preserving Gangetic dolphins, including a specimen found in Budhabalanga river in 2006, contribute to the understanding and conservation of this endangered species. The recent discovery has stirred excitement, offering hope for the Gangetic dolphin’s continued presence in the region.