Authorities and communities in Preah Rumkel commune of Stung Treng province’s Borei O’Svay Sen Chey district say the Irrawaddy dolphin in Anlung Chheuteal is functionally extinct, with the sole remaining dolphin appearing close to death.
The last fresh water dolphin in the area is wounded and swimming with a fishing net wrapped around its tail.
O’Svay village chief Sorn Pan – who is also the head of river guards of Anlung Chheuteal – told The Post that the dolphin has now fallen ill and was emaciated.
“Previously, the dolphin – which is more than 2m long – weighed about 200kg, but now it is very thin and less than 100kg. There are sores on its tail,” he said.
Pan said authorities had tried to remove the remnants of net that were attached to the dolphin, but that they did not have the tools or techniques to do so successfully. The dolphin may die in the near future if national or international experts cannot help, he added.
Phoy Vanna, a member of the Preah Rumkel Dolphin Ecotourism Community, said the dolphin cannot swim well enough to hunt because of the net.
“Currently, the dolphin just swims on the surface of the water and occasionally makes a distressing sound – like it is trying to tell us to find a way to save it from the pain,” he said.
Vanna, who relies on a small ecotourism boat to transport visitors to see the dolphins, said it would be sad if the sole remaining one is lost.
He called on all available institutions and units, both national and international, to help to find ways to save it.
Srey Sam Vichet, head of the provincial Fisheries Administration, told The Post that due to geographical factors and the age of the dolphin, his team and the team from World Wide Fund Cambodia (WWF-Cambodia), could not take any action.
“The Mekong River dolphin in the Anlung Chheuteal area is not only a wonder of Cambodia, but also a wonderful treasure of Laos. We cannot do anything without consent from the Laos side. On the other hand, the dolphin is very old,” he said.
Sam Vichet said he had reported the situation to the Fisheries Administration and hoped that they may find a solution.
Ouk Vibol, head of the General Department of Fisheries’ conservation department, told The Post that based on the experience of he and his team who have rescued dolphins in the past, only a small percentage of dolphins survive after a rescue.
He said that rescuing a dolphin in such a situation require advanced equipment and techniques to lift it. If the river bottom has many reefs, an aesthetic spray is used on the dolphin, which can be dangerous for the animal.
“There are four main reasons that we cannot release the poor dolphin from the net: geography, politics, the environment and natural factors,” he said.
Vibol added the Irrawaddy dolphin is in waters bordering Laos, which considers it a national treasure. So despite Laos not yet having enacted fisheries laws, interfering with the dolphin could provoke an international incident.