Day 2: 29 April 2015 (Wednesday): positive news from local fishermen
by Dr Alfonso Lopez
After the successful sightings on day one of the project, we were feeling positive and optimistic that we would see more dolphins today. It was very sunny, but a slight wind resulted in small waves on the surface of the lake.
These conditions made it difficult for us to spot the Irrawaddy dolphin’s small dorsal fin. Despite the challenges we remained hopeful. However after hours of searching, there were still no signs of the dolphins from the boats or the plane.
For this dolphin survey, the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources (DMCR) deployed their most experienced cetacean observation staff from five different centres.
All of them agreed that the Irrawaddy dolphins at Songkhla Lake can be difficult to spot, due to their short dorsal fin. This fin is situated slightly further down their back compared to other dolphins, so when they come to the surface to breathe, sometimes this fin does not breach the water surface.
Learning about local fishing community’s conservation efforts
At noon, we returned to Lampam town for lunch before heading out to conduct community interviews with the fishermen. Our aim was to gain a deeper understanding of the past and present circumstances that have caused the decline in population numbers.
To the fishermen, Songkhla Lake is a vital resource, therefore hearing their opinions and learning about their history with the dolphins will help define plans for the future.
What we found was truly encouraging. The community is very aware of the problem caused by fishing in areas inhabited by Irrawaddy dolphins, and they are actively cooperating with the authorities.
We then spoke to another group of fishermen from Koh Yai (which means Big Island in Thai) who has been working very closely with the DMCR.it
This group was established 10 years ago because they noticed the drastic decline in the number of dolphins. I can only say that I am proud to have met them all – they are very inspiring people. Over the years, not only have they been involved in Irrawaddy dolphin conservation projects, they have also been creating awareness among other fishermen.
One of their on-going efforts is the removal of gill nets from Songkhla Lake. Gill nets are one of the main causes of dolphin deaths here. The dolphins get entangled in the net and subsequently drown as they cannot surface to breathe. The fishermen showed us pieces of gill nets they removed from the lake.
These very experienced fishermen also shared with us where the dolphins were seen over the years, and the approximate number of individuals. All this information is extremely valuable and will greatly benefit the project.
It is clear that the locals do treasure these dolphins. In fact, it appears that the Irrawaddy dolphin is the icon for Lampam town as we have seen many dolphin sculptures around!
Although no dolphins were spotted today, speaking with the local fishermen has been a truly fascinating learning experience. Until tomorrow!
Follow the team on their trip
- Save the Irrawaddy Dolphin Project: Day 1
- Save the Irrawaddy Dolphin Project: Day 2
- Save the Irrawaddy Dolphin Project: Day 3
- Save the Irrawaddy Dolphin Project: Day 4
- Save the Irrawaddy Dolphin Project: Day 5