The Gangetic dolphins have been declared as the National Aquatic Animal of India. This decision was first taken in the meeting of the National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA) chaired by then Prime Minister Dr.Manmohan Singh on 5th October, 2009.
Ganges river dolphins once lived in the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna and Karnaphuli-Sangu river systems of Nepal, India and Bangladesh. But the species is extinct from most of its early distribution ranges. The Ganges river dolphin can only live in freshwater and is essentially blind.
Ten years after Gangetic dolphins were declared National aquatic animals, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced on 15th August, 2020 a conservation project for the species. This conservation project is named as the Project Dolphin’.
This project aims to give a stronger impetus for conservation of the aquatic mammals in the lines of ‘Project Tiger’ – a tiger conservation programme launched in April 1973 and ‘Project Elephant’ launched in 1992 to provide financial and technical support to wildlife management efforts by states for their free-ranging populations of Wild Asian Elephants.
According to the environment ministry, the project envisages to address conservation concerns and empower the stakeholders such as the river-dependant population in reducing the pollution and allowing sustainable fishery and river-based other livelihood options through scientifically oriented conservation methods. Implementation of the “Project Gangetic Dolphin” envisions a healthy river ecosystem not only protecting the biodiversity of the river but also taking into consideration the well-being of the people depending on its resources.
Addressing the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort on India’s 74th Independence Day, Modi said, “We will launch ‘Project Dolphin’ for protecting ocean and Gangetic dolphins”. It may be mentioned here that the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Changes has made elaborate plans to launch the 10-year project ‘Gangetic Dolphin’ led by Environment Minster Prakash Javadekar.
The Gangetic river dolphin is a species of freshwater dolphins primarily found in the Ganga and Brahmaputra rivers and their tributaries in India, Bangladesh and Nepal. Ganges river dolphins prefer deep waters, in and around the confluence of rivers. The distribution range of the Ganges river dolphins in India covers seven states namely Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal.
There are around 3700 Gangetic River Dolphins in Indian river systems, according to official figures. The Ganga dolphin is one of only three freshwater dolphins left in the world. There are about 1800 left in the Indian part of the Ganga-Brahmaputra-Meghna basin, down from about 4500 as recently as 1982. There may be around 600 more left in Bangladesh, a few in Nepal, all part of the same basin. In Bhutan, the fourth country in the basin, the Ganga dolphin has not been seen for many years.
The Ganga dolphin is given the highest level of protection possible under the 1972 Indian Wildlife Protection Act. It is categorised as “endangered” by the International Union for conservation of Nature.
As river dolphins acts as indicators of healthy river ecosystems, their conservation would also ensure controlling river pollution and improving the availability of fishes and enhancing economies of local communities through sustainable fishery, the ministry said. They were declared National Aquatic Species in 2010.