New protection proposed for Pakistan's river dolphins

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The death of 24 endangered dolphins in the river Indus, Pakistan last year has led to recommendations for a complete ban on fishing in their reserve.

Officials from the Sindh Wildlife Department have become concerned at the use of chemicals by local fishermen within the reserve, which are being blamed for the majority of reported river dolphin mortalities.

The 210km long reserve was established in 1974 between the Guddu and Sukkur barrages in an effort to protect the endangered Indus blind dolphin, Platanista gangetica ssp. minor, the population of which was thought to be as low as 150 at the time.

Although numbers have risen since the reserve's creation, with current estimates at around 1000 animals, the recent increase in deaths from fishing related activities has prompted this latest action.

Know locally as 'Bhulan', they grow to just over 2m/6' long and are almost totally blind, with their tiny eyes thought to be only capable of detecting light direction and intensity.

These dolphins have been the subject of considerable taxonomic debate. Initially they were regarded as identical to the Ganges river dolphin, or Susu, but in the 1970's the species was divided, with the Ganges population being given the name Platanista gangetica and the Indus population P. minor.

This was changed in the late 1980's when new research concluded they were subspecies of the same animal and given the names used now – P. gangetica ssp. gangetica and P. gangetica ssp. minor. Yet more research has called this conclusion into question once more, but none of this helps the dolphins, which regardless of the name we give them are listed as 'endangered' on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

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