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Cambodia records first rare Mekong river dolphin death in 2023

PHNOM PENH (XINHUA) – A rare Mekong River Irrawaddy dolphin has been found dead after being entangled in fishermen’s illegal gillnets in northeast Cambodia, the Fisheries Administration said in a statement.

The 2.38-metre-long male dolphin, 160 kilogrammes in weight and aged about 20, was spotted dead on Sunday morning in the Mekong River in the Stung Treng province, said the statement.

“The joint research team of Fisheries Administration and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) primarily assessed that the cause of the death was gillnets since there were tears on its stomach, and gillnet marks on its tail base and pelvic fins,” the statement said.

It was the first dolphin found dead in 2023, it added.

WWF-Cambodia country director Seng Teak said this tragic incident occurred amid the implementation of stricter protection measures in line with a government sub-decree announced in February on the Mekong dolphin management zones.

A freshwater dolphin swimming in the Mekong River in Cambodia’s Kratie province. PHOTO: AFP

“The illegal fishing activities and the use of illegal fishing gears in dolphin conservation areas remain a challenge although protection measures have been remarkably stepped up in the last few months,” he told Xinhua on Monday.

As dolphins share habitats with other mega fish species and broodstock, their protection is in favour of people’s livelihoods, food sources and food security, Teak said, urging authorities to further strengthen regulation and management concerning dolphin hunting and local fish markets and depots.

“A complete ban on all illegal fishing activities including gillnets, long-line hooks and electro fishing in the dolphin areas would help safeguard this critically endangered species from extinction,” he added.

“More efforts are needed to stop the illegal dolphin trade,” he noted.

The Irrawaddy dolphins have been listed as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species since 2004.

The Fisheries Administration said there are about 90 Irrawaddy dolphins living in the Cambodian portion of the Mekong River in the Kratie and Stung Treng provinces.

The Cambodian government last month issued a sub-decree on the creation of the dolphin conservation and protection zones covering a 120-kilometre-long stretch of the Mekong River in the two provinces.

“Fishing must be prohibited from the dolphin conservation and protection zones,” the sub-decree said.