Numbers of Critically Endangered Mekong River Dolphin Stable

Urgent need for even more collective action to save population from extinction after latest census

Cambodia -- The Cambodian Government’s Fisheries Administration and WWF announced today that the Irrawaddy dolphin population in the Mekong River numbers just 89.

The number is a slight decline from the estimate of 92 in 2018, but shows that the population has stabilized in recent years after decades of precipitous decline.

Critically, the survey’s findings also indicate a positive survival rate of calves through to adulthood, with a 'recruitment rate' of 4.22% - the highest documented in the past decade - signalling an improving trend for the dolphin population.

“Although the survey confirmed that number of river dolphins in Cambodia has stabilized, the population size is still small, so stronger conservation action is urgently needed,” said Mr. Seng Teak, WWF Country Director.

The population is ranked as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List, the highest international threat ranking for endangered species, and is restricted to a 180 km stretch of the mainstream Mekong River in Cambodia between Kratie and Khone Falls on the border with Laos.

The Irrawaddy dolphins are fully protected under Cambodia’s Fisheries Law. The dolphins, however, continue to face great danger. Gill nets, development of upstream dams, overfishing, and illegal fishing practices such as electrofishing are among major known treats to the survival of the species.

Concerted conservation action in recent years has halted the decline in the population, but more is required to ensure that the population expands.

The Fisheries Administration and WWF are committed to continuing to work together with the local communities and other partners to boost collective efforts to implement the recommendations of the 2020 population report.

These recommendations include enforcement of the fisheries law and the ban on illegal gill net use in the protected dolphin habitat, continued robust monitoring of the species population, and management of the Ramsar site in Stung Treng province to improve natural fish stocks for food and prey enhancement for both the local communities and the dolphins.

WWF's work to safeguard the river dolphins in Cambodia is part of its ambitious global River Dolphins Initiative.