Dolphin of the river dance endangered by demand from Asia's marine parks

The Irrawaddy dolphins, famed for their belly dancing mating ritual, are among a host of endangered species being considered for legal safeguards by the United Nations Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), which is meeting in Bangkok on Saturday.

In the wild, the river dolphins make a splash with their foreplay, belly dancing clear of the water before delivering a mating performance commonly saluted by a pod of up to 10 onlookers.

But Asia's burgeoning trade in aquatic parks, which prize the elaborate rituals of these cute dancing dolphins, also known as Orcaella brevirostris, could spell disaster for the dwindling Irrawaddy population.

Maitri Duangsawat, from Thailand's Department of Marine and Coastal Resources, urges immediate action "to prevent the increase in marine parks throughout Asia from boosting trade in the species".

Thailand's appeal for a ban in the trade on these dolphins - which number barely 3,000 animals in the wild - is among 50 amendments to the Cites wildlife treaty that will be considered at the two-week convention, featuring delegates from 166 countries.

Some 80 new marine parks are on the drawing board in Asia alone. Most are particularly keen on the Irrawaddy, because they are among the easiest to train and because they can be kept in freshwater tanks, far cheaper to maintain than corrosive seawater pools.

At least 10 Chinese aquariums already own Irrawaddy dolphins, which are made to perform five 40-minute shows every day. Singapore is known to have acquired four of the rare creatures for captive display, and Japan has three. Furtive trading makes the census difficult to complete. Unlike bottlenose dolphins or porpoises, found in most dolphinariums, Irrawaddys can tail-dance with ease, lifting their bodies clear of the water. They can even precision-squirt water at targets up to five feet away.

At present trade in these natural showboaters is controlled, but the growth in demand means a ban is needed, say campaigners.

Stage and commercial exploitation are not the only dangers facing wild dolphins, which are threatened with everything from death by dynamite fishing to asphyxiation in beach nets. Other dolphins are poisoned by the run-off from gold mining.

Dams scheduled to be built on tributaries to the Mekong river will further threaten their habitat because they swim in the shallows - both brackish and freshwater - and are found in isolated pockets from Burma to Australia. Many get trapped in fishing nets as they compete with humans for a menu of squid, cuttlefish and catfish.

Although rarely hunted for their meat, oil extracted from their carcasses is said to be therapeutic in India as a balm for rheumatism.

Burmese fishermen have been known to summon Irrawaddy dolphins by thumping the surface of the water, and traditionally encourage them to herd fish by circling close towards the boats; the reward is a share of the catch.

Cambodian sailors have described how the dolphins can catch a big fish for sport by stunning it with a blow from its lower jaw. They then toy with the fish before discarding it. Species Survival Network, a collective of 80 wildlife activist groups, drew special attention yesterday to the plight of sea life, advocating that certain species of whales, sharks, and even mussels need an increased level of protection.

"We have overfished ourselves," Will Travers, president of the organisation, said. "Frankly, it's become a global issue." In years past, it was "more difficult to discuss fish" at the Cites meeting because of powerful commercial lobbies, he said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
tv
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Voices
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
art
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine