Conservation Problem

Irrawaddy Dolphins and Indo-Pacific Finless Porpoises living in coastal waters of the Indo-Pacific are considered to be among the most threatened mammals on earth, with fatal entanglement in gillnets being the single greatest risk faced by these species. Unless the deaths of more of these iconic, top predators can be prevented, the species' future remains bleak. The potential extinction of coastal dolphins and porpoises in the northern Indian Ocean could have dramatic impacts on marine ecosystems, threatening small-scale fisheries that support millions of people.

Meanwhile, gillnets are used by millions of these impoverished, small-scale coastal fishermen whose lives and livelihoods are also at risk due to the increasing frequency of extreme storms resulting from climate change. Measures taken to protect threatened dolphins and porpoises in the Indo-Pacific are unlikely to succeed unless they involve compelling incentives to encourage the direct participation of gillnet fishermen.

Project Activities

The project takes place in about 1,200 km2 of open estuarine waters in the northern Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh, between the Sundarbans mangrove forest and the Swatch-of-No Ground submarine canyon.

This innovative project connects priority species conservation goals with the safety of fishermen, thus creating a strong constituency for conserving threatened dolphins and porpoises. The loss of coastal cetaceans to entanglement in gillnets will be reduced through a collaborative safety network with fishermen: in exchange for training and equipment to help them navigate back safely during increasingly frequent extreme storms, fishermen will check their nets and release cetaceans that are found still alive after becoming entangled.

Project Outcomes

This project will increase the number of dolphins and porpoises released alive after becoming entangled in gillnets. It will also increase the at-sea safety of fishermen leading to a greater openness towards adopting dolphin-safe and sustainable fishing practices.
The project will moreover provide vital scientific information on these little known species and serve as a proof-of-concept for a model that can be applied in other areas of the Indo-Pacific where coastal cetaceans are at risk of extinction from gillnet entanglement.

  • 12A-048-026, Rubaiyat Mansur, WCS, Pantropical spotted dolphin, SOS - Save Our Species
    Bangladesh creates new Marine Protected Area for Dolphins, Whales, Sharks and Turtles
    On 3 November 2014, the Government of Bangladesh declared the country’s first Marine Protected Area, Swatch of No Ground, to safeguard whales, dolphins, sea turtles, sharks, and other oceanic species ...
  • 12A_48_06, Large mesh size Gillnet fishing boat at the Bengal coast, by Rubaiyat Mansur WCS, SOS - Save Our Species
    SOS Marine: Collaboration key to saving Bangladesh’s cetaceans from gillnets
    The lives of Bangladesh's fishermen and its coastal cetaceans are intertwined. Regarded as their brethren at sea, fishermen often lament the death of these top predators through entanglement in gillne...
A close connection
Did You Know: Fishermen in Bangladesh regard dolphins as their brethren at sea and tell stories about friends or relatives who have been saved from drowning by these animals. They express sadness when dolphins and porpoises become accidentally entangled and die in their nets. However, fishermen currently have little knowledge about how to safely release them.
SOS - Save Our Species
>> A global coalition to conserve threatened species and their habitats