Dolphin-enabled livelihood on the Ayeyarwady

The Asean Post –

On a stretch of the Ayeyarwady river, also known as the Irrawaddy river, near Myanmar’s Mandalay, fishermen from six villages work hand-in-fin with 26 Irrawaddy dolphins in a unique collaboration. Taught to do so since childhood, the fishermen cooperatively fish the river with the assistance of the dolphins. The tradition, origin unknown, is said to have been in practice since the 1860s.

The fishermen summon the dolphins by tapping a pointed stick on the side of their wooden boats while making a cooing sound. The dolphins herd fish in the surrounding waters towards the boat. A wave of their tails above the water signals to the fishermen that it is time for the net to be cast. When practising this cooperative fishing technique, the fishermen are said to be able to catch six times more fish than when done individually. The dolphins also benefit from the easy catch of fish that escape the net.

The Irrawaddy dolphins are one of the few species of freshwater dolphins in the world, with fragmented distribution in South and Southeast Asia’s fresh and brackish waters. The species is highly vulnerable to extinction due to incidental mortality as bycatch through the use of gill nets, other destructive fishing practices, habitat degradation, pollution, diversions and damming of rivers for hydropower.

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