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Dolphin study stalled on tracks

Calcutta, Feb. 28: An ambitious project to study dolphins in the Sunderbans area has been dealt a blow with the Centre yet to grant permission to the team comprising foreign scientists and members of a city-based nature club.

“The Union ministry for environment and forests has not yet forwarded us the permission, which they will get from other relevant departments dealing with the movement and use of sophisticated equipment near the international border,” said A.K. Raha, director of the Sunderbans Bio-sphere Reserve. The survey was scheduled to begin on February 26.

A member of the US-based Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, Brian Smith, is now in Delhi, trying to convince the ministry about the nature of their survey. The use of the global positioning system on the launches to be used in the study, parts of which will be conducted close to the Bangladesh border, needs clearance from the Centre.

According to forest department sources, the system that will be used to track the dolphins after they are tagged with radio transmitters involves very sensitive equipment whose use is restricted in areas around any international border.

The department had apparently received a message from the ministry of external affairs asking it to delay the survey.

Nilanjana Ghosal, a member of Pugmarks — the nature club working in collaboration with the society — said the forest department had given them the go-ahead. “We had a team of 12, including Americans, Britishers and three Bangladeshi experts. They had been to Gosaba and set up camps. But we were told just before the study commenced on Wednesday that the project could not progress unless the Union government cleared it,” she pointed out.

“We thought we had all the necessary permissions, but now it seems we have to go through some more processes. We are hopeful that the work will begin within the next week or so,” said Joe Barulik, a member of the society.

Senior forest officials said the initial permission was granted as there was no financial implication for the state government and the survey was important considering the fact that dolphins are on top of the endangered species list.

The survey was meant to study the three varieties of dolphin in the Sunderbans delta. “We have very little data on the Gangetic dolphin, the Irrawady dolphin and the porpoise and this was to be the first such study on these marine mammals,” Raha said.

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