Tuesday, 23 April 2013

New population of rare Irrawaddy dolphins found in the Philippines

April 2013. A new population of critically-endangered Irrawaddy dolphins has been found in the Philippines by Mavic Matillano of the WWF Palawan team. Spotted by chance off Palawan - along the coastline of the West Philippine Sea - this pod of rare marine mammals, locally called Lampasut, was observed displaying typical behaviour, foraging for prey around lift net fish traps sitting approximately one kilometre offshore. Previous populations of these dolphins - gifted with features that offer the barest hint of a congenial smile - have been documented in Malampaya Sound, as well as off the island of Panay. The Quezon pod represents the fourth known group of Irrawaddy dolphins reported in the Philippines. 

The Irrawaddy dolphin
The Irrawaddy dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris), is able to adapt to a wide range of salinity and is found in discontinuous subpopulations near coasts and in estuaries and rivers in regions stretching from the Bay of Bengal to New Guinea and the Philippines. Lightly coloured, Irrawaddy dolphins can appear similar to beluga in appearance. They have a blunt, rounded head, and an indistinct beak. Their dorsal fin is short, blunt and triangular. In the wild, they have been seen spitting out streams of water - a rather unique and peculiar behaviour. Contrary to what some people believe, this animal is not a true river dolphin, but an oceanic dolphin that lives in brackish water near coasts, river mouths and estuaries. 


Irrawaddy dolphins enjoy the highest level of international protection. Some Irrawaddy dolphin populations are classified by the IUCN as critically endangered, including the Malampaya Sound sub-population in the Philippines. Irrawaddy dolphins are listed as vulnerable by the IUCN throughout their whole range. 

The Quezon population
Matillano, a seasoned veteran of WWF's earlier conservation work on the Irrawaddy population of Palawan's Malampaya Sound, reported seeing at least 20 individuals in just one sighting. This is a relatively large sized pod for this uncommon species, where groups of fewer than six individuals are most common. 

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