River Dolphin or Gangetic River Dolphin is the National Aquatic Animal of India. In 2009, the Manmohan Singh government notified the Gangetic Dolphin as the national aquatic animal to channel attention and resources towards conserving the species. The dolphins are an indicator species for the river ecosystem and are considered the mascot of a healthy aquatic environment. This mammal is also said to represent the purity of the holy Ganga as it can only survive in pure and fresh water.
The 'Gangetic River Dolphin' commonly known as - "River Dolphin" is a biological curiosity. In North-East India, especially in the state of Assam, this endangered species locally called as 'Hihu', 'Xihu', 'Seho', 'Huh', in the big red river 'Brahmaputra' and its 13 tributaries. Scientifically known as Platanista Gangetica, species have some 5 species belonging to 3 genera. The species inhabit the waters of the Indian major rivers Ganga and Brahmaputra.
The Ganges River dolphin is endemic to the Indian sub-continent and has a fairly extensive distribution range. It is found in the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna and Karnaphuli-Sangu river systems of India and Bangladesh, while a few individuals may survive in the Karnali, and the SaptaKosi Rivers in Nepal.
Facts about Ganges River Dolphin:
One of the distinguishing features of the Ganges river dolphins is their capacity to adapt to the changes that happen with the Ganges river. Specifically, the dolphins are known to migrate into different areas of the river when flood season is occurring. At other times, they are found closer to canals and places in which rivers join in order to survive.
The diet of Ganges River Dolphins includes a wide range of fish, turtles and birds that are located around the Ganges river, such as, atfish, carp, clams, turtles and occasionally birds.
The Ganges River Dolphin will only have one calf at a time. Typically, the Ganges River Dolphin will mature at an older age, with females not becoming ready to breed until they are at an average of six to ten years old.
There are two species of River Dolphins in the river, one with a distinct dorsal fin and the other without it.
Many consider the Ganges River Dolphin to be a sub-species of the Indus river dolphin. However, recent research has found a difference in appearances and has allowed the dolphin to remain as a separate species.
Like many other dolphin species, this one is also in deep danger of becoming extinct, and has been on the endangered species list since the 1950s. This is attributed to hunting and fishing in the area.
The attributes of this dolphin include a longer beak and large flippers. Both the upper and lower jaw sets of long sharp teeth are visible even when the mouth is closed. While the snout is long and widens at the tip, the female’s snout is generally longer than that of the male and may curve upwards and to one side.
Body size is about 2m - 2.2m in males and 2.4m - 2.6m in females. The body is a deep brown colour, stocky in the middle and attenuating to a narrow tail stalk behind the dorsal fin.
Dolphin oil is used as bait to attract two target fish species (Clupisomagarua and Eutropiichthysvacha), which are then netted or hooked. This use of dolphin oil and their body parts creates an incentive for hunting dolphins and a disincentive for fishermen to release any that may become entangled in their nets.
Like the tiger as national animal and the peacock as national bird, we have declared the dolphin as the national aquatic animal. It represents the health of the rivers, particularly the Ganga.
- Jairam Ramesh (Ex- environment and forest minister)