An endangered Gangetic dolphin, which was fleeing the Ganga’s filthy waters and got stuck in a shallow and polluted canal at Basudevberia in East Midnapore, was found dead today. Wildlife officials said the dead Gangetic dolphin belonged to an endangered group that has less than 2000 surviving members. It had strayed into the Udbadal canal at Basudevberia through the Rupnarayan river, around 130 kilometres from Kolkata on Friday, but it could not return to the river due to heavy obstruction of fishing nets laid across the canal.

The water was also polluted as plastic, thermocol and other wastes were dumped in the canal. As a result, the dolphin could not get enough oxygen from the canal water, wildlife officials said. Ms Swagata Das, Divisional Forest Officer, East Midnapore, said: “The dolphin had entered the canal on Friday. We tried to push it back into the river and managed to do so for at least 15 km downstream. But there were fishing nets which obstructed its path. The water was also polluted as plastic and thermocol are dumped in the canal. It couldn’t be saved and it died of cardiac failure as there was a lack of oxygen in the canal water. We have carried out post mortem of the animal and buried it in the forest.”

According to local residents, the dolphin was seen in the Udbadal canal for the last few days. They tried to push back the animal into the river and informed the forest officials. When it was struggling to get out of the canal’s muddy and polluted waters, it got stuck inside a culvert. It also got injured. Later, when the forest officials tried to push it into the river, it again got stuck in the fishing nets laid across the canal and it finally died after it failed to get enough oxygen to breathe.

The Ganges river dolphin (Platanista gangetica gangetica) is a mammal primarily found in the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers and their tributaries in India, Bangladesh and Nepal. The dolphin is an indicator of the river’s health. The Ganges river dolphin is listed in Appendix I of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) and Schedule I of India’s Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.

The hunting of the species and trade in it is prohibited. Being a mammal, the Ganges dolphin cannot breathe in the water and must surface every 30-120 seconds. Because of the sound it produces when breathing, the animal is popularly referred to as the ‘Susu’. The movements of the Ganges dolphin follow seasonal patterns, although the details are not well known.

However, it seems that animals travel upstream when water level rises, and from there enter smaller streams, a wildlife official said. A recent survey conducted by the WWF-India and its partners in the entire distribution range in the Ganga and Brahamaputra river system around 6,000 km identified fewer than 2,000 such animal in India.