General Studies IIIEnvironment and Ecology

Project Dolphin


Recently, the MInistry of Jal Shakti expressed his displeasure over the slow pace of the approval process for Project Dolphin.

What is Project Dolphin?

  • The Project will be on the lines of Project Tiger, which has helped increase the tiger population.
  • The initiative got in-principle approval in 2019 at the first meeting of the National Ganga Council (NGC), headed by the Prime Minister.
    • Project Dolphin is one of the activities planned under Arth Ganga, an ambitious inter-ministerial initiative of the government approved in 2019.
  • So far, the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG), which implements the government’s flagship scheme Namami Gange, has been taking some initiatives for saving dolphins.
  • Now, Project Dolphin is expected to be implemented by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.
  • Global Experience: The Rhine Action Plan (1987) of the International Commission for the Protection of the Rhine (ICPR) — representing Switzerland, France, Germany, Luxemburg and the Netherlands — helped in conservation of the salmon fish (also an indicator species).

Ganges River Dolphin

  • The Ganges River Dolphins (Platanista Gangetica) was officially discovered in 1801. The original stretches where the National Aquatic Animal of India are found:
  • Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna River Systems and
  • Karnaphuli-Sangu River Systems; of Nepal, India, and Bangladesh
  • Scientific Name:Platanista gangetica gangetica.
  • The Ganges river dolphin can only live in freshwater and is essentially blind
  • An adult dolphin could weigh between 70 kg and 90 kg. The breeding season of the Gangetic dolphin extends from January to June.
  • They feed on several species of fishes, invertebrates etc.
  • They hunt by emitting ultrasonic sounds, which bounces off of fish and other prey, enabling them to “see” an image in their mind. They are also called ‘susu’.
  • These Gangetic Dolphins also act as an indicator of the health status of the freshwater ecosystem as they can only thrive in freshwater ecosystems.
  • The global population of the species is estimated at 4,000, and nearly 80% found in the Indian subcontinent.

Why is the Ganges River Dolphin National Aquatic Animal of India?

  • The reason to declare Ganges River Dolphin as the National Aquatic Animal of India was to save it from extinction. Also, the Ganges Dolphin is seen as the reflector of the health of the Ganga River. The declaration was made in 2009 in the National Ganga River Basin Authority’s (NGRBA) first meeting.


Conservation Status of Gangetic Dolphin

Wildlife (Protection), Act 1972Schedule I.
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES)Appendix I
Convention on Migratory Species (CMS)Appendix II  

Threats to Ganges River Dolphin:

  • Bycatch: These dolphins and people both favor areas of the river where fish are plentiful and the water current is slower. This has led to fewer fish for people and more dolphins dying as a result of accidentally being caught in fishing nets, also known as bycatch.
  • Pollution: Industrial, agricultural, and human pollution is another serious cause of habitat degradation.
  • Dams: Construction of dams and other irrigation-related projects make them susceptible to inbreeding and more vulnerable to other threats because they cannot move to new areas.
    • Dolphins below a dam are threatened by heavy pollution, increased fishing activities and vessel traffic. They also have less food because dams disturb the migration, breeding cycles and habitat of fish and other prey.

Difference between Indus and Ganges Dolphins:

Indus River DolphinGangetic River Dolphin
Indus river dolphins are believed to have originated in the ancient Tethys sea

Today, they can only be found in the lower parts of the Indus River in Pakistan and in river Beas

They have adapted to life in the muddy river and are functionally blind

They rely on echolocation to navigate state aquatic animal of Punjab

IUCN status: Endangered

They live for at least for 30 years and grow over 2 meters in length.

Gangetic river dolphin is primarily found in the Ganges and Brahmaputra river

They prefer deep waters in and around the confluence of rivers

They also act as an indicator of the health of the freshwater ecosystem as they can only live in freshwater

Gangetic river dolphin is India’s national aquatic animal

IUCN status Endangered

CITES: Appendix IWPA 1972: Schedule I


Conservation Status:

  • Indian Wildlife (Protection), Act 1972: Schedule I.
  • International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN): Endangered.
  • Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES): Appendix I (most endangered).
  • Convention on Migratory Species (CMS): Appendix II (migratory species that need conservation and management or would significantly benefit from international co-operation).

Steps Taken:

  • Project Dolphin: The Prime Minister announced the government’s plan to launch a Project Dolphin in his Independence Day Speech 2020. It is on the lines of Project Tiger, which has helped increase the tiger population.
  • Dolphin Sanctuary: Vikramshila Ganges Dolphin Sanctuary has been established in Bihar.
  • National Ganga River Dolphin Day: The National Mission for Clean Ganga celebrates 5th October as National Ganga River Dolphin Day.
  • Conservation Plan: The Conservation Action Plan for the Ganges River Dolphin 2010-2020, which “identified threats to Gangetic Dolphins and impact of river traffic, irrigation canals and depletion of prey-base on Dolphins populations”.

Source: Indian Express

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