BHUBANESWAR: For the first time, the Wildlife Wing of the State Government is planning to carry out a dolphin census in the coastal eco-systems and shorelines of Odisha apart from Chilika lagoon.
With strong evidence that there are many sustainable dolphin habitats in at least five pockets in the State and off the coast, the Wildlife Wing has been encouraged to take up the enumeration at multiple sites.
Though detailed research work on the dolphin pockets is very few, at least 12 species of dolphins have been sighted and recorded in Odisha. The Wildlife Wing is keen on making a start with the census this year around the time the annual enumeration of Irrawaddy dolphin takes place next month. Sources said the matter would be formalised at a meeting scheduled to be held later this week.
“We are looking at Bhitarkanika, Balasore, Puri and Rushikulya apart from Chilika. A modality will be worked out and DFOs would be entrusted the work,” Chief Wildlife Warden SS Srivastava told this paper. Besides Chilika, hitherto the only surveyed habitat of Irrawaddy dolphins in the State, the census would focus on Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary which also has a good habitat for this smaller species of cetaceans.
Experts say that at least five species - Irrawaddy, Finless Porpoise, Bottlenose, Humpback and Spinner - have been recorded in Bhitarkanika alone. Towards the north of Kalibhanjadiha creek, there is a confluence point of Brahmani and Baitarani rivers and Materi nullah, known as Nalitapatia, which holds a sizeable population of Irrawaddy dolphins. Its enumeration and documentation would go a long way in preparing a conservation plan for this endangered species.
This apart, Bottlenose and Humpback species have been frequently sighted along the coastal stretches - Digha-Balasore, Astarang-Konark-Puri, Puri-Chilika and Chilika-Rushikulya-Gopalpur.
According to dolphin researcher Dr Muntaz Khan, currently a Zoology lecturer with Vikram Dev Autonomous College in Jeypore, there are a number of fishing hotspots and confluence points known to be rich nutrient zones where the dolphin pockets are distributed.
The Chief Wildlife Warden said the census would also help provide basic information about migrating behaviour of Irrawaddy dolphins as well as other species.
Since the Irrawaddy dolphins are mostly distributed along the coasts of Bay of Bengal and rivers of southeast Asian countries like Myanmar, the migration habits from Chilika could be of interest to conservationists. The 2014 census in Chilika had put their population at 158.
Meanwhile, this year’s Irrawaddy dolphin census in Chilika is set to be conducted under the supervision of the Chief Wildlife Warden’s Office and DFO of Chilika Wildlife Division would join hands with Chilika Development Authority (CDA) for the annual exercise. The enumeration methodology could also be modified this time.