Letter to Myanmar Officials Regarding Irrawaddy Dolphins

Mr Thein Sein
President of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar
President Office
Office 18
Nay Pyi daw,

Mr. U Ohn Myint,
Minister of Livestock and Fisheries

Mr. U Khin Maung Aye,
Deputy Minister of Livestock and Fisheries

Mr U Khin Ko Lay,
Director General of Livestock and Fisheries

Minister Office
Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries
Office No (36), Naypyitaw

Dear Sirs,

The Society for Marine Mammalogy is the largest professional group in the world dedicated to the study of marine mammals and consists of approximately 2,000 scientists from 60 countries. Its goal is to facilitate the understanding and conservation of marine mammals and their ecosystems.

I write to you as President of the Society concerning an article in the Myanmar Times (Battery fishing rise threatens unique dolphin cooperation, 6-12 August 2012;

This article describes a rapid increase in the use of electricity for catching fish in the Ayeyarwady River, which is seen as a threat to a Critically Endangered population of Irrawaddy dolphins (Orcaella brevirostris) ( and to the unique cooperative fishing by dolphins and local cast-net fishermen. Marine mammal scientists are particularly concerned about adding new threats because of most river dolphins and porpoises in Asia are already Critically Endangered and because of the recent extinction of the baiji (Yangtze River Dolphin).

I commend the Government of Myanmar for taking important actions to protect Irrawaddy dolphins and the human-dolphin cooperative fishery. As you are aware, in December 2005 the Department of Fisheries established a protected area for these dolphins in a 74-km segment of the Ayeyarwady River between Mingun and Kyaukmyaung. I note the conservation progress made in this Ayeyarwady Dolphin Protected Area with the adoption of a management plan and implementation of systematic patrols for educational outreach and enforcement together with the Wildlife Conservation Society. I understand that this sanctuary’s establishment also included a prohibition on the use of electricity to catch fish. The apparent increase in electric fishing suggests that activities to deal with this potential new threat likely need strengthening.

Society members have formed an ad hoc Mekong Dolphin Working Group to provide technical advice and support to the Cambodian Government and World Wildlife Fund – Cambodia, which are addressing conservation challenges similar to those you face with the same species of dolphins. This group includes experts from the United Kingdom, United States, China, Japan, Spain, and Canada. On behalf of the Society, I offer our technical assistance for conserving Myanmar’s critically endangered dolphin population in the Ayeyarwady River. These experts could, for example, suggest methods to monitor dolphin numbers and thereby evaluate the efficacy of efforts to reduce threats like electric fishing. If you agree, the Society could establish a working group to advise your government on the Ayeyarwady River dolphin population. I would be happy to put you in touch with the relevant individuals and to facilitate such a development if you would like.

I appreciate your support for Irrawaddy dolphin conservation and your understanding about the urgency to strengthen conservation actions to protect the dolphins in the Ayeyarwady. The Society of Marine Mammalogy is very willing to respond to an invitation to provide technical assistance if you consider this appropriate.

Yours sincerely,
Helene Marsh PhD, FTSE

President Society of Marine Mammalogy

Professor of Environmental Science
Dean of Graduate Research Studies
James Cook University
Townsville, 4811
phone: +61747815575