Eight endangered Mekong dolphins have died so far this year in Kratie and Stung Treng provinces, seven in January and one in February, according to the World Wildlife Fund.
The eight were killed in fishing nets, WWF Country Director Seng Teak said Wednesday.
“We are seriously concerned by the continued disappearance of dolphins,” he said, adding that fishing nets are the biggest killers, though water-borne electrical currents also threaten dolphins.
“If they go on dying and dying it will bring shame on our country.” It could also hurt the tourism industry, he said.
Since 2003, 53 Mekong dolphins have been killed. Today, there are between 80 and 100 dolphins, the organization says, with between 13 and 15 dolphins born every year.
Officials from the Tourism Ministry, the Agriculture Ministry, the Wildlife Conversation Society and WWF are working to stop illegal fishing practices during the mid-November to mid-February fishing season, said Seng Teak. The WWF found that most dolphins died during this season.
Between 2001 and 2005, the number of foreign tourists visiting Kratie and Stung Treng to see the dolphins rose from 1,623 to 7,533, according to Seng Teak, while over 10,000 Cambodians came to see them in 2005 alone.
Local communities receive 40 percent of the proceeds from the dolphin tour ticket sales, according to Seng Teak. The tourism and agriculture ministries each get 30 percent.
Secretary of State Thong Khon said he led Tourism Ministry officials on a visit of Kratie and Stung Treng earlier this month to reiterate to fishermen the dangers of using illegal nets.
“We know now that illegal fishing nets kill dolphins,” he said.
“We asked the local community to register all fishermen and the ministry is considering helping them change from fishing to making crafts for sale to tourists instead,” he said. “The Prime Minister has ordered all types of fishing net banned. All of them kill dolphins.”