Wildlife & Biodiversity

A dolphin paradise, in the middle of chaos

Barely 45 minutes away from Varanasi, is a patch of the Ganga that is dolphin heaven

By Dimpi Patel
Published: Monday 13 January 2020

The Ganges River Dolphin (Platenista gangetica) or Gangetic Dolphin, known as Sauns in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, is the national aquatic animal of India. However, many Indians are unaware of this fact.

The elusive freshwater cetacean is an umbrella species of the Ganga and Brahmaputra river system and has a significant ecological importance as its presence indicates the good health of an area.

The species is listed under the ‘Endangered’ category of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature as it is losing its habitat due to anthropogenic activities. These animals were once found in large groups called ‘schools’ but nowadays, the groups have reduced in size.

The Vikramshila Gangetic Dolphin Sanctuary in Bihar’s Bhagalpur district, the only sanctuary for our national aquatic animal, is facing a decline in its dolphin population. On the other hand, there are some deep pools in the Ganga river system outside of Vikramshila, where the dolphins are prospering.

I came across one such deep water pool recently. It is situated in the Ganga near Dhakwa village of Varanasi district, Uttar Pradesh. The village is a 45-minute ride away from Sarnath.

Most of the men in the village are fishers and if you visit the area, you will see quite a few small boats lying there. The place is calm and the waters are considerably clean, with minimal anthropogenic pressure. The place has an old Shiva temple where people gather during festivals.

Since there is no tourism in the area, Brijesh (one of our local co-workers, who is involved in the Namami Gange project) requested one of the fishermen to take us to the middle of the river and he agreed.

This man had a traditional wooden boat that could accommodate four people. I saw five to six dolphins in those waters. It seemed like dolphins are used to having boats around them.  

I visited the place quite a few times as I found that it was the best to see Gangetic dolphins jumping near one’s boat without them getting bothered about human presence. It definitely is the sign of a healthy section of the highly polluted Ganga.

I am glad that people out there are conserving the area by not altering its serenity. I wish we are able to find more such places and try and conserve the dolphins before they vanish from our river systems. It can be an interesting place to have on your bucket list if you are a nature lover.

I assume that there are at least 10 dolphins living happily in that spot. Locals say they have seen this majestic mammal for the past many years and do not catch them. In rare cases, if a dolphin gets caught in their nets, they let it go without harming it.

I never imagined such a habitat near the crowded and polluted patch of the Ganga that is Varanasi.

Dimpi Patel is a researcher with the Wildlife institute of India, Dehradun, India

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