Irrawaddy Dolphin

Irrawaddy Dolphin

name = Irrawaddy Dolphin
status = DD
status_system = iucn2.3

image_caption = Irrawaddy Dolphin near Kratié

image2_caption = Size comparison against an average human
regnum = Animalia
phylum = Chordata
classis = Mammalia
ordo = Cetacea
familia = Delphinidae
genus = "Orcaella"
species = "O. brevirostris"
binomial = "Orcaella brevirostris"
binomial_authority = Gray, 1866
The Irrawaddy Dolphin ("Orcaella brevirostris") is a species of dolphin found near coasts and in estuaries in parts of south-east Asia.

Anatomy and Morphology

This species has a large melon and a blunt, rounded head. Its beak is indistinct. The dorsal fin is short, blunt and triangular. It is located about two-thirds of the way along the back. The flippers are long and broad. It is lightly coloured all over - slightly more white on the underside than the back.

Length is about 1 m at birth and 2.3 m at full maturity. Birth weight is about 10 kg. Adult weight exceeds 130 kg. Lifespan is about 30 years.

The Irrawaddy Dolphin is a slow swimmer. It surfaces in a rolling fashion and lifts its tail fluke clear of the water for a deep dive only. Irrawaddy Dolphins spit streams of water from their mouths while spyhopping. Dolphins of the species kept in captivity have been trained to do this on command.

Etymology and Taxonomic History

The Irrawaddy Dolphin was identified by Sir Richard Owen in 1866 and is one of two species in its genus (the other being the newly described Australian Snubfin Dolphin). It is similar to the beluga in appearance. It has sometimes been listed in either a family containing just itself and in Monodontidae and Delphinapteridae. Nowadays there is widespread agreement to list it in the Delphinidae family.

Genetically the Irrawaddy Dolphin is closely related to the Orca. The species name "brevirostris" comes from the Latin meaning short-beaked. In 2005 genetic analysis showed that the Australian Snubfin Dolphin found at the coast of northern Australia forms a second species in the "Orcaella" genus.


Although sometimes called the Irrawaddy River Dolphin, it is not a true river dolphin but an oceanic dolphin that lives near coasts and enters rivers, including the Ganges and the Mekong as well as the Ayeyarwady River (Irrawaddy River) from which it takes its name. Its range extends from the Bay of Bengal to New Guinea and the Philippines. In the Philippines, a small "O. brevirostris" population exists in Malampaya Sound in the northern part of the island province of Palawan. The dolphins are confined to the inner regions of the sound, while more common bottlenose dolphins make the outer part of the enclosure their home.

Interaction with Humans

On account of their coastal nature Irrawaddy Dolphins are more susceptible to interference than other river dolphins. The most direct threat is the capturing of Irrawaddys for their oil. As an endangered species, they are legally protected from hunting; however, enforcement may be poor along tens of thousands of miles of coast line. Entanglements in gillnets and deaths or injury due to explosives used in fishing are common in Vietnam and Thailand. All along its distribution population and other habitat degradation worries conservationists. Human influence such as nets crossing river channels restrict movement and isolate populations, causing them to decline. The population in India's Chilka Lake, which has suffered from entanglement in fisher's gill nets and drag nets, is believed to have dwindled to as few as 50 individuals.

Irrawaddy dolphins in Myanmar have been documented participating in cooperative fishing with humans using cast nets by driving the fish towards these fisherman in response to acoustic signals from them.

Irrawaddys are also taken to perform in aquariums. Though this practice is less common than it used to be, it still has a significant local impact.


The IUCN lists several populations, including those in the Mahakam River and Malampaya Sound, as critically endangered.IUCN2006|assessors=Cetacean Specialist Group|year=1996|id=15419|title=Orcaella brevirostris|downloaded=10 March 2007] The Malampaya population was first discovered and described in 1986, at the time consisting of 77 individuals. Due to anthropogenic activities, this number dwindled down to 47 dolphins in 2007.cite news | last =Yan | first =Gregg | authorlink = Gregg Yan | title =Rare Palawan dolphins now down to 47 - WWF | work =Section A | pages =1, 6 | language =english | publisher =Philippine Daily Inquirer | date =2007-03-08 | url =| accessdate = 2007-03-10 ]


* Database entry includes a lengthy justification of why this species is listed as data deficient
*"National Audubon Society Guide to Marine Mammals of the World" ISBN 0-375-41141-0
*"Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals" ISBN 0-12-551340-2
*"Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises", Mark Carwardine, ISBN 0-7513-2781-6
* [ IUCN Red list entry for Irrawaddy Dolphins]
* [ The first systematic study ever done on fishing with Irrawaddy dolphins in Myanmar] Tun, T. (2004). Irrawaddy dolphins in Hsithe – Mandalay segment of the Ayeyawady River and Cooperative Fishing Between Irrawaddy Dolphin, "Orcaella brevirostris", and Cast-net Fishermen in Myanmar. A report submitted to the Wildlife Conservation Society. June, 2004.
* [ The first systematic study ever done on castnet fishery with the help of Irrawaddy dolphins in Myanmar] Tun, T. (2005). Castnet Fisheries in Cooperation with Irrawaddy Dolphins (Ayeyawady Dolphins) at Hsithe, Myitkangyi and Myayzun Villages, Mandalay Division, in Myanmar. A report submitted to the Wildlife Conservation Society. August, 2005.
* []


External links

* [ WWF Irrawaddy page]
* [ National geographic] Gold mining, nets endanger dolphin (contains photo)
* [ Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society]
* [ Transcript of briefing by Myanmar marine biologist Tint Tun] describes human/dolphin cooperative fishing.
* [ Myanmar Heritage web site on Irrawaddy dolphins] has photos of human/dolphin cooperative fishing.
* [ Tint Tun, a marine biologist from Myanmar] , has illustrated reports on castnet fishing with Irrawaddy dolphins. The reports (please see in References) in pdf can be downloaded from this website.

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