Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Bhubaneswar, Feb 28:
Bhitarkanika wildlife sanctuary has dethroned long time leader Chilika as the largest home for dolphins in Odisha. The Rajnagar Mangrove division has scored the highest ever numbers in the first ever state-wide enumeration along the coastal eco-system and shorelines.
After drawing a gloomy scenario of the presence of dolphins in various habitats, the forest department has confirmed their presence in all the selected water bodies, bringing much euphoria among wildlife researchers and environmentalists.
The official figures have put the the number of dolphins along the Odisha eco-systems and shorelines at 456 with Bhitarkanika park alone accounting for 276, nearly half of it, belonging to six different species.
Chilika, so far considered to be the only home of dolphins in the state, has registered 144 dolphins, all belonging to the species ‘Orcaella brevirostris’ or Irrawaddy. However, there has been a decline from the previous year’s number of 157. The marked decline has been attributed to migration of these huge mammals to other coasts or eco-systems.
The brackish water lagoon was divided into four zones—northern, southern, central and outdoor channel—in which line transect direct sighting method was used for the headcount.
The findings of the maiden dolphin census carried out in six coastal divisions from February 15, along with Chilika brackish water lagoon, have surprised the enumerators with at least seven different species identified during the census.
The different species identified are: Irrawaddy, Bottlenose, two species of Humpback, Pan-Tropical Spotted, Finless Porpoises Ganges river dolphin.
After Bhitarkanika and Chilika, Brahmapur division reported the highest number of dolphins with 24 followed by Bhadrak at six, Baleswar having five and Budhabalanga river under Baripada division registering only one aquatic mammal.
Of the 206 Irrawaddy dolphins spotted during the census, 144 were seen in Chilika, 58 in Bhitarkanika and four in Bhadrak. Besides, 23 Bottlenose dolphins were spotted in Bhitarkanika, 22 in Brahmapur, five in Baleswar and one in Bhadrak.
The two species of Humpback dolphins sighted during the survey are ‘Sousa Chinensis’ and ‘Sousa Plumbera’. Of the 125 ‘Sousa Chinensis’ dolphins enumerated, 123 were found in Bhitarkanika while the remaining two were sighted in Brahmapur division. Similarly, all the 50 ‘Sousa Plumbera’ were found in Bhitarkanika alone.
All the 15 Pan-Tropical Spotted dolphins sighted also go to Bhitarkanika’s account. In addition to this, one Finless Porpoise species was also spotted in this eco-system. However, the only Ganges river dolphin sighted during the survey was found in Budhabalanga river under Baripada division.
Notably, as many as 40 census teams comprising 206 persons including experts from Wildlife Wing of the forest department, WWF India, Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), OUAT, Chilika Development Authority (CDA) and various NGOs took part in the state-wide enumeration process.
The census teams were equipped with binoculars, global positioning system (GPS) equipment and data recording sheets apart from other essentials.
This year’s census was being conducted under the direct supervision of the Chief Wildlife Warden with active participation of the CDA and its forest division.
It may be mentioned that according to 2014 census, Chilika had recorded a dolphin population of 158, followed by 152 in 2013, 145 in 2012 and 156 in 2011.
But this year’s maiden dolphin census carried out by wildlife and forest department officials in Odisha’s coastal eco-systems and shorelines has brought smiles on the faces of environmentalists and scholars. The substantial increase in the headcounts is expected to promote research and give a fillip to tourism in the state.