Though infant mortality is on the decline among Cambodia’s endangered Mekong Irrawaddy dolphin population, the overall health of the baby dolphins is of concern, said fisheries expert Touch Seang Tana, who heads the government’s dolphin commission.
Two of the nine baby dolphins born in 2007 died—one in January and another last week, Touch Seang Tana said Thursday.
In 2006, 14 babies were born, six of which died, he said, adding that these numbers were encouraging given the fact that previous years saw an average of 15 babies die.
“Before there were a lot of deaths. Now there is only two,” he said.
Touch Seang Tana said the improvements are thanks to educational campaigns over the last couple years warning villagers not to use gill nets, and encouraging them to find work in tourism instead of fishing.
Touch Seang Tana said the baby dolphins are underweight and look unhealthy. The baby that died in January weighed only 3.8 kg, and the baby found last week tangled in a fishing net weighed about 4 kg—which was about 1 kg shy of the normal weight, he added.
“The remaining babies are small,” he said, adding the baby dolphins’ failing health is partly due to a shortage in the fish their mothers eat, which is something he attributed to global warming and shifting temperatures.
Worldwide Fund for Nature Cambodia Country Director Teak Seng said global warming may be a threat to the dolphins, but there is no conclusive evidence to support the theory.
“We don’t have any scientific evidence that supports this causal relationship, therefore further research needs to be conducted,” he wrote by e-mail Thursday.
“While dolphins are very sensitive to changes in their environment, such as water temperature and quality,” he said, “other factors may be more influential such as diseases and water pollution.”
Touch Seang Tana said there are between 140 and 150 dolphins in Cambodia, though a December WWF estimate put that figure at less than 100.
(Additional reporting by Emily Lodish)