From: Associated Press
Published December 13, 2004 12:00 AM

Wildlife Conservation Team Begins Survey of Irrawaddy Dolphins in Myanmar, Report Says

YANGON, Myanmar — A wildlife team led by a U.S. expert has begun an annual survey of endangered Irrawaddy dolphins in Myanmar's main river, a count that last year showed just 50 of the animals still living there, a newspaper reported Sunday.


The rare dolphins -- distinguished by their blunt heads and lack of a distinctive beak -- are named after Myanmar's Irrawaddy River. They are also found in rivers and coastal areas in other parts of Southeast Asia ,as well as in India and northern Australia.


The 10-member team of specialists from the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society and Myanmar's Fisheries and Forest Department began the three-week survey of the dolphins on Dec. 4 along the upper reaches of the Irrawaddy River between Sagaing and Bhamo, The Myanmar Times reported.


It is the third annual survey aimed at confirming the dolphin's population, the weekly said, quoted Tint Tun, a member of the team and a marine biologist with the Wildlife Conservation Society .


A survey conducted in December last year estimated the dolphin population at about 50.


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The team, led by Brian Smith, a conservation zoologist with the wildlife group, will also try to educate fishermen living along the river about protecting the animals.


Wild Irrawaddy dolphins, known scientifically as Orcaella brevirostris, are critically endangered, according to the World Wildlife Fund. They are often caught by traders who sell them to aquariums, particularly in Asia, which seek them for their unusual appearance and ability to perform tricks.


Tint Tun said Myanmar fishermen and villagers do not kill or trade the dolphins, but that more protection is needed because the mammals face accidental deaths due to entanglement in fishing nets.


The Fisheries Department plans to establish a protection zone along the river by mid-2005, he said.


An international conference of signatories to the U.N. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species held in Bangkok in October agreed to prohibit trade of the Irrawaddy dolphin to protect surviving populations.


Source: Associated Press


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