PM Demands Action to Protect Dolphins

PM Hun Sen has urged timely and strict protection of dolphins in the Mekong river to prevent extinction. Photo: Eam Sam Un / FiA_WWF

PHNOM PENH – PM Hun Sen has urged timely and strict protection of dolphins in the Mekong river to prevent extinction.

He told Kratie and Stung Treng provincial governors to set up a permanent core protection area for the animals by banning fishing, nets and other disturbances and identify other core areas according to the water level.

“Dolphins must be fully preserved without exception,” Hun Sen said on Jan. 2 during the groundbreaking ceremony for a bridge across the Mekong river in Kratie under a concession from China.

He said the work must not solely depend on the Ministry of Agriculture. The provincial governors must act.

Mok Ponlok, director of the Kratie provincial Fisheries Administration, said the governor will soon call for a meeting to discuss the strategy to strengthen the effort to preserve the creatures.

“I cannot say anything much right now, but we will work on it,” he said.

Eleven critically endangered dolphins were discovered dead in Cambodia's portion of the Mekong river in 2022, which was unprecedented.

Seng Teak, World Wildlife Fund (WWF)-Cambodia country director, said he welcomed the PM’s announcement, pledging to keep working closely with authorities to enforce the law and protect dolphins.

He said the main cause of the loss of dolphins was illegal fishing, including using longline fishing hooks, electric shocks and gill nets.

Asked why fishery crime is still happening in the dolphin sanctuary, Teak said the sanctuary covers a large area, which causes difficulties such as patrolling.

“The fishing activity of the local people still occurs,” he said. “Thus, the sustainable management of the area must be in place.”

The area for dolphins to hunt food and breed should be properly designated while river guards and the authority should stand by every day. Night patrols were crucial.

“Education on the negative impact of illegal fishing and the importance of dolphin protection must be widely disseminated among the local people,” he said. The law should be applied broadly.

The latest dolphin general census, which was carried out in 2020, found that 89 dolphins were living in the Mekong river at that time.

Teak said WWF and Agriculture Ministry teams were working to collect data for a 2023 dolphin census. Six new dolphins were recorded in 2022.

Currently, more than 70 percent of the Mekong dolphin population is more than 20 years old, making them incapable of breeding. Irrawaddy dolphins have a life expectancy of 27 to 30 years, WWF said.

The Mekong Irrawaddy dolphin is listed as critically endangered on the red list of threatened species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

In Cambodia, Mekong river dolphins are found from the Anlong Kampi Irrawaddy dolphin conservation area to the Stung Treng province border upstream, which stretches 180 kilometers.

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