KARACHI: The decreasing flow of water in the River Indus has not only changed the river’s shape but the number of various fish species, especially the rare Blind Indus Dolphin, has declined dramatically, Abdul Karim Gabol, communication officer of World Wildlife Federation (WWF) Sindh told Daily Times on Wednesday.
“Though the exact number of the fish could not be collected, according to an estimate of the Sindh Wildlife Department in 1989, the number of Blind Indus Dolphin between the Sukkur barrage and the Arabian Sea was about 3,500. That has gone down to a mere 1,100 in 2006,” he said.
Another reason for the declining number of this species could be that the river had been reduced to small ditches in most areas near Kotri Barrage, which has caused a complete end to many species of small fish used as Blind Dolphin feed. “There is a pocket between Sukkur Barrage and Guddu Barrage where 70 percent of the Blind Indus Dolphins present in the River Indus were found. Many organisations have initiated preservation efforts in this area,” he said.
Mohammad Arab Mallah, president of the Sindh Tarraqi Pasand Mallah Tanzeem and an expert on downstream Kotri matters, agreed that the alarming level to which the Blind Indus Dolphin was in danger was because of the continuous water shortage below Kotri Barrage. He added that the irrigation system and barrages on River Indus had proved major obstacles in the free flow of Blind Dolphins.
“My organization contacted several organizations for help. It is regrettable that our government is doing nothing to preserve these rare fish,” Mallah lamented. He said that professional fishing at the River Indus and the use of prohibited nets had also caused this decline. “People hunt the dolphins for their oil or kill them for meat because they believe that the fat of the dolphins is a treatment for some kinds of pain. That is not true,” he explained. Mallah said that sometimes, these dolphins accidentally get caught in fishermen’s nets and die. “A couple of months back, a dolphin slipped from River Indus onto Rice Canal near Larkana and was shot dead by some villagers who were unaware of the importance of this beautiful fish.”
This rare fish is locally known by various names such as Indus Susu, because of its whistle-like sound, Blind River Dolphin and the Side-Swimming Dolphin. The Indus River Dolphin has a long beak that thickens toward the tip, revealing its large teeth. The forehead is steep and the fish has poor eyesight as the blowhole is on the left of the head, above its tiny eye. They are gray-brown in color, sometimes with a pinkish belly, and measure between 1.5 meters to 2.5 meters in length, weighing a maximum of 90 kg. Their breeding takes place every alternate year in shallow water and the reproductive season is from March to May.