This post was featured in “The Better India”. You could also read it here How a Padma Shri Awardee is Fighting to Save the Gangetic Dolphins from Extinction
The Ganges river dolphin is a fresh water dolphin that is found in the Gangetic Basin in India, Bangladesh and Nepal. Essentially blind they hunt by emitting ultrasonic sounds, bouncing off preys, making them visualize an image in their minds. On the brink of extinction, their current number stands at a mere two thousand.
For someone who has grown up seeing these dolphins in the river bank in Patna, it is but natural to be concerned about their survival. Meet Prof Ravindra Sinha from the zoology department in Patna University. Known as the “Dolphin Man of India”, he has been waging a war for the last three decades, trying to conserve these dolphins in the Gangetic basin.
The Ganges river dolphins are subject to many threats. From unintentional killing through entanglement in fishing gear, to pollution in the river from industrial wastes, pesticides, municipal sewage discharge and noise from vessel traffic, these threats have drastically reduced their number. They are also hunted down by fisherman for their meat and oil which is considered to have medicinal properties. The oil is used by the fisherman to attract catfish. Prof. Sinha works closely tackling each one of these threats.
Things weren’t all that easy when Prof. Sinha started out in his mission. The concern was less and the awareness of them being on the verge of extinction was low. There was reluctance in grant of funds to carry out research work on the conservation of dolphins. Taking it all upon himself, with a small team of 6 members, he set up the “Dolphin Foundation”. Through his foundation he conducted extensive surveys, meeting fisherman on the banks of the Ganges, educating them and making them aware of conserving the Gangetic dolphins.
He included the local people calling them ‘dolphin mitra’ and also launched awareness campaigns among students of schools and colleges. Thanks to his sheer persistence, in the year 2009, the central government declared the Ganges River Dolphin as the National Aquatic Animal. In Jan 2016, recognizing his efforts and contribution towards conservation of the Gangetic dolphins, the central government honored him with the prestigious Padma Shri. Prof Sinha happens to be the first scientist from Bihar to be awarded the Padma Shri.
Prof. Sinha also claims to have come up with a substitute for dolphin oil—for the use of fishermen who use the oil to attract cat fish in net fishery. “What I can do is educate and convince them about the harmful fallout of killing them,” he says
The conservation of the dolphin has become his life’s passion. He has helped in establishing the Vikramshila Dolphin Sanctuary in Bhagalpur, the country’s only such controlled ecosystem. Prof. Sinha has also written scores of research papers and books on dolphins. This exhaustive work of his has earned him the prestigious ‘Order of the Golden Ark’ award of the Netherlands.
Today, Sinha is the member of the National Ganga River Basin Authority in India. He aims to set up Asia’s first Dolphin Research Centre in the Patna with sanctions from the state government necessary funds for this proposed Centre so that intensive research on this aquatic animal could be undertaken.
No wonder he is fondly referred to as the “Dolphin Man of India”.