Critically endangered freshwater dolphins living in the Mekong River are under a new threat from the chemical waste of nearby gold mines, fisheries officials said.
Phay Somany of the Ministry of Agriculture’s Fisheries Department said on Tuesday that a young dolphin died of suspected chemical poisoning last month.
A Sambor district, Kratie province mine is thought to have recently stopped using manual mining techniques and has become a larger-scale, chemical operation, Phay Somany said.
“We are worried about these problems,” Phay Somany said. To confirm the cause of death, samples taken from the dead young dolphin have been sent to laboratories in New Zealand, Australia and Japan for analysis, he added.
Kratie First Deputy Governor Vorn Chhunly said Tuesday that provincial authorities will investigate the large-scale use of chemicals in gold mines in Sambor district to determine whether the practice may be polluting the river and affecting the Mekong’s dolphin population and the villagers who make their living from the river. “We will stop the mining if the activity exists, because it could affect the health of the people and the wildlife,” Vorn Chhunly said.
In addition to the threat of poisoning, the rare aquatic mammals are also endangered by logging, pollution, flooding and aggressive fishing practices.
An 80-kg dolphin was snared last month in a fishing net and also died, Phay Somany said.
In the early 1970s, there were said to be more than 1,000 Irrawaddy dolphins living in the Mekong. Today, fishery officials estimate their numbers have declined to just 60.