By Prerna Singh Bindra
BEST SEEN AT: Vikramshila Sanctuary, Bihar; Garmukhteshwar, UP
STATUS: Schedule I/Endangered*
GOOD TO KNOW: They are among the oldest creatures in the world, having survived for over 100 million years
THE GANGETIC DOLPHIN, inexplicably called the susu, is blind. It uses a highly evolved echo-location system, to navigate and find food. It’s believed to use its beaklike snout to disturb and detect the fish upon which it feeds. Wherever they live, dolphins are loved and revered. Legend says that when Goddess Ganga descended from the skies, dolphins heralded the descent of the holy river. Dolphins, they say, are our kin, lost to the aquatic world. Yet, freshwater dolphins around the world are critically endangered. The Chinese baiji or the Yangtze river dolphin was declared extinct in 2006. The Gangetic Dolphin could be next, given that the scant 2,000 that remain are severely threatened. They are hunted for oil and meat, killed as ‘accidental’ catch in gill net fishing and are choked by polluted, toxic waters, but the most serious threat to them is the extensive damming of rivers. This alters the flow of the waters, isolates populations and prevents seasonal migration. A decline in the population of the Gangetic dolphin, watchdogs of a clean river eco-system, signals a decline in freshwater.