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Update on the Ganges River Dolphin Survey Expedition

Kevin Denlay FI’98 has recently returned to his base of operations in Kathmandu after travelling the rivers of western Nepal and completing the first stage — the monsoon season survey stage — of his second Ganges River Dolphin Survey Expedition. This is his second Ganges River Dolphin-related expedition this year with Explorers Club Flag #118. The first was conducted in March 2013, pre-monsoon, both on the Karnali River in west Nepal and the Karnali (aka Ghaghara) and Geruwa Rivers just over the Nepal-India border. He will return to western Nepal and India again in October 2013 to complete the second stage — the post monsoon survey stage — of this second Flag expedition.

In mid-August, Ganges River Dolphins were recorded and photographed in the Mohana and Pathariya rivers and their tributaries. A variety of water toxicity and accompanying tests were conducted by scientific members on the expedition team, both where the dolphins were sighted and also where they were not. (Note: the Mohana and Pathariya rivers are basically waterless in the ‘dry’ season, when the majority of the dolphins that inhabit the overall area during the monsoon season are thought to migrate back to the waters of the large dam just below the Nepal / India border.)

Ganges River Dolphin’s are officially considered ‘Endangered’ by CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species), but the population that is ‘trapped’ upstream of the large Girijapur Barrage (dam) that is located just over the border in India — and which migrate up to Nepal during the monsoon season — seem particularly vulnerable. A full EC Flag report and a separate stand-alone scientific paper on the expedition’s results will be published later in the year, but initial findings would seem to dispute the larger GRD numbers previously claimed to be frequenting the Mohana and Pathariya river area during the monsoon season by the local Dolphin Conservation Centre (their ‘survey’ numbers albeit effected by them not using ‘scientific’ survey count methods).

This survey project is being conducted in west Nepal (and in the direct adjacent India border region) and is not to be confused with other dolphin projects taking place in other parts of India, Bangladesh and Pakistan by other parties.

The tail fluke of a Ganges River Dolphin breaks the surface as it aggressively hunts for fish at the confluence of the Rapti Nala and Mohana River (N28 27’23.9” / E81 00’27.0”), Kailali District, West Nepal during the expedition. Villagers seen on the river bank are part of the survey count team. During this day, three dolphins were counted / verified at this one ‘hot-spot’ using scientifically accepted survey count methods.

A Ganges River Dolphin surfaces at the confluence of the Gauri Nala and Pathariya River (N28 27’36.5” / E81 01’05.3”) near Dhungana Tol, Kailali District, West Nepal during the expedition. Note the elongated ‘snout’ that differs dramatically from its ocean going cousins. During this day, five to six dolphins were counted / verified at this one ‘hot-spot’ using scientifically accepted survey count methods.

Both of these photos were taken some 1000kms ‘in a straight line’ from the nearest ocean, the Bay of Bengal!

Key members of the survey team with the acting chief warden of Bardia National Park, in which the team spent the last day on the Geruwa River and saw no dolphins.
Left to right: Pawan Bashyal (Msc Biochemistry), Pravat Dhakal (Bsc Biotechnology). Kevin Denlay (Expedition Leader, holding expedition mascot “Nevil”), Ramesh Thapa (acting Chief Warden, Bardia National Park), Pramod Shrestha (Expedition Co-ordinators Assistant).

First two photos courtesy of Kevin Denlay, the third is courtesy of Kevin Denlay and taken by Rajendra Kunwar, Expedition Driver extraordinaire.

The following maps provide context for where the first two images were captured, in ever increasing degrees of enlargement, so you are zooming out as you scroll down. Note that the some of the Google Earth photos are a composite of two satellite images stitched together, one taken in the dry season, the other in the semi dry season.

Click Here to visit Kevin Denlay’s Page on the
Australia & New Zealand Chapter Website

This news piece was adapted from an informational report provided by Kevin Denlay from the field.


Published by : Kevin Murphy

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Background image photography courtesy of members Christoph Baumer, Neil Laughton, Matt Harris and Don Walsh's image of the Bathyscape Trieste