Irrawaddy Dolphin


  • Status
  • Scientific Name
    Orcaella brevirostris
  • Weight
    198-440 pounds
  • Length
    5.9-9 feet
  • Habitats
    Lakes, Rivers, Estuaries, and Coasts

Irrawaddy dolphins are found in coastal areas in South and Southeast Asia, and in three rivers: the Ayeyarwady (Myanmar), the Mahakam (Indonesian Borneo) and the Mekong. The Mekong River Irrawaddy dolphins inhabit a 118-mile stretch of the river between Cambodia and Lao PDR and are scarce—just 92 individuals are estimated to still exist. These dolphins have a bulging forehead, short beak, and 12-19 teeth on each side of both jaws.

Freshwater dolphin species and facts

Swimming through fresh waters in parts of South America and Asia is what one might consider an unexpected figure: the dolphin. It joins the ranks of the shark and the sea turtle as some of the oldest creatures on Earth. And while they're most commonly associated with oceans, dolphins—and porpoises—can actually be found in several major rivers on two continents.

Indus River dolphin pops out of water

Why They Matter

  • The protection of the Irrawaddy dolphin is crucial for the overall health of the Mekong River—home to an estimated 1,100 species of fish. The Irrawaddy dolphin is also regarded as a sacred animal by both Khmer and Lao people, and is an important source of income and jobs for communities involved in dolphin-watching ecotourism.


  • Extinction Risk Endangered
    1. EX

      No reasonable doubt that the last individual has died

    2. EW
      Extinct in the Wild

      Known only to survive in cultivation, in captivity or as a naturalised population

    3. CR
      Critically Endangered

      Facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the Wild

    4. EN

      Facing a high risk of extinction in the Wild

    5. VU

      Facing a high risk of extinction in the Wild

    6. NT
      Near Threatened

      Likely to qualify for a threatened category in the near future

    7. LC
      Least Concern

      Does not qualify for Critically Endangered, Endangered, Vulnerable, or Near Threatened

Irrawaddy Dolphin and Bycatch

Irrawaddy dolphins are primarily threatened by bycatch, the accidental capture of aquatic animals in fishing gear.

What WWF Is Doing

Irrawaddy Dolphin

Working With Communities

WWF teaches local communities about dolphin and environmental conservation issues, as well as developing community fishery management zones to help sustainably manage fish and conserve dolphins. We also support alternative livelihood development such as aquaculture, chicken raising and home-gardens, to reduce fishing pressure and bycatch of dolphins, as well as alleviate poverty in riverside communities.


Conducting Research

WWF conducts research to learn about dolphin mortality, population and ecology. Each year, the Cambodian Mekong Dolphin Conservation Project conducts at least two population surveys of Irrawaddy dolphins in the Mekong River. Surveys are usually conducted in March to May when dolphins congregate around deep pool areas in the low water.

Collaborating to Address Threats

WWF collaborates with The Coca-Cola Company and local residents to address impacts from climate change in the Mekong River Basin through habitat restoration, infrastructure improvements and influencing local policy.

Stopping Illegal Wildlife Trade

In 2004, WWF and TRAFFIC, the world’s largest wildlife trade monitoring network, supported a ban on the international live trade of Irrawaddy dolphins by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

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