New sanctuaries for dolphins and whales in Bangladesh

New sanctuaries for dolphins and whales in Bangladesh


Using sound science, WCS discovered that Bangladesh’s vast Sundarbans mangrove forest and adjacent marine coastal zone is a global stronghold for threatened dolphins, porpoises, and whales. The Government of Bangladesh responded to WCS information and encouragement by establishing three sanctuaries to protect Asia’s last two remaining freshwater dolphin species and creating the nation’s first marine protected area. These protect the world’s largest population of Irrawaddy dolphin, as well as Indo-Pacific finless porpoises, humpback dolphins, and bottlenose dolphins, as well as a genetically distinct population of Bryde’s whale.


Between 2002 and 2005, WCS partnered with captains of nature tourism vessels (engaged as citizen scientists) to conduct over 2,750 km of scientific surveys. This new knowledge informed us that the Sundarbans is a hot spot for both Ganges River and Irrawaddy dolphins. Today WCS is working with the protected area management agency and local communities to conduct educational outreach and to implement SMART patrols to ensure that fishers comply with regulations prohibiting destructive fishing techniques. WCS’s next surveys, which studied the coastal waters near the vast submarine canyon called the Swatch-of-No-Ground (SoNG), discovered as many as 5,400 Irrawaddy dolphins. Given the 450 Irrawaddy dolphins resident in the Sunderbans, we realized that this area supports the world’s largest population of Irrawaddy dolphins by an order of magnitude. Closer to the head of the SoNG, WCS discovered over 1,200 Indo- Pacific finless porpoises, 600 humpback, 2,200 bottlenose, and large numbers of pantropical spotted and spinner dolphins, as well as a genetically distinct population of Bryde’s whale. By spreading the word that Bangladesh is a global hot spot for dolphins, porpoises, and whales, and linking the survival of these threatened wildlife species to sustainable fisheries and climate change adaptation, WCS created a local constituency for conservation that inspired the government to ask WCS to prepare a proposal for establishing the nation’s first marine protected area.


Protecting Habitat IconHABITAT: In 2012, in response to WCS surveys showing that Bangladesh was a globally important stronghold for threatened freshwater dolphins, the government created three wildlife sanctuaries to protect over 50% of the range of endangered Ganges River dolphins and almost 20% of the range of vulnerable Irrawaddy dolphins within the Sundarbans mangrove forest.

Effective Governance IconGOVERNANCE: In 2014, based on WCS’s proposal, the Government of Bangladesh created the country’s first marine protected area covering 1,738 km2 (671 mi2—20 times the area of Manhattan) within the Swatch-of-No-Ground and adjacent coastal waters protecting key feeding and breeding ground for dolphins, porpoises, and whales.


PHOTO: Bryde’s whale and Spinner dolphin were found in large numbers in the Swatch-of-No-Ground submarine canyon.
   MAP: WCS surveys discovered that Bangladesh is a global hotspot for endangered dolphins, porpoises, and Bryde’s whales, inspiring the government to establish four new protected areas..

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