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
News
The guide, since withdrawn, used illustrations and text to help people understand the court process (Getty)
newsMinistry of Justice gets law 'terribly wrong' in its guide to courts
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown with her mother Whitney Houston in 2011
people
News
Starting the day with a three-egg omelette could make people more charitable, according to new research
scienceFeed someone a big omelette, and they may give twice as much, thanks to a compound in the eggs
News
Top Gun actor Val Kilmer lost his small claims court battle in Van Nuys with the landlord of his Malibu mansion to get back his deposit after wallpapering over the kitchen cabinets
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
newsPatrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
News
Robert Fraser, aka Groovy Bob
peopleA new show honours Robert Fraser, one of the era's forgotten players
Life and Style
Torsten Sherwood's Noook is a simple construction toy for creating mini-architecture
tech
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
News
i100
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

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links