Cute and quiet, they are endangered creatures of the deep waters; leaping out of the Bhagirathi, their sleek bodies glistening in the sun, the Gangetic dolphins nose dive into their watery homes off the south Bengal town of Katwa.

Earmarked by the state forest department to be an awareness cum breeding centre for this national aquatic animal, this town will be the first place in the state, experts feel, to witness an increase in the number of this fresh water mammal in the days to come. A dedicated speedboat was inaugurated by state forest minister Rajib Banerjee recently to track the movement of these elusive creatures. Their presence in large numbers is a pointer to the well being of a river eco system.

Come the monsoon, Gangetic dolphins are seen to congregate at the confluence of Bhagirathi and Ajay rivers. The choice of Katwa as the awareness cum breeding centre for the protection of Gangetic dolphins cannot be faulted as their number has already crossed the three figure mark, a senior forest department official said.

Plantanista Gangetica as the Gangetic dolphins are known in scientific parlance once occurred plentifully in the rivers of Ganges, Brahmaputra, Meghna, Karnaphuli and Sangu across India, Bangladesh and Nepal. But pitted against the twin menaces of pollution and poaching, the number of these swimming mammals dwindled.

A spurt in vessel traffic poses a threat to the Gangetic dolphins. These creatures live on fishes on whose bodies the ultrasound sound emitted by these aquatic mammals bounce off giving it an accurate idea of the location of its prey

The choice of Katwa to be the spot to set up a breeding cum awareness centre of South East circle of the state forest department meets the criteria of an untroubled existence for the Gangetic dolphins Hunted for its meat and body oil, forest officials feel that a sustained campaign for this creature which makes a beeline for Katwa when the skies open up will be a significant step in its conservation.

The sojourn of Gangetic dolphins begin from Jiagunj, Azimgunj, Jangipur, Triveni and Nabadwip. The local fishermen will be the principal target of the awareness campaign to drive home the lesson to release the Gangetic dolphins whenever they are caught in the fishing nets, it was learnt.