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PIL to protect dolphins

Cuttack, Dec. 23: The rare Irrawaddy dolphins of Chilika lake are in danger owing to unregulated operation of thousands of mechanised boats and ferries carrying tourists. Most of these boats fitted with “noisy” and “polluting” engines are harmful for the dolphins.

The predicament of these dolphins has come into focus with a PIL being filed in Orissa High Court seeking prohibition on use of mechanised boats and zero nets in Chilika.

The PIL filed by Ratnakar Satrusalya, 72, former sarpanch of Balugaon in Khurda district, was taken up for hearing on Thursday. “After a preliminary hearing the division bench of Chief Justice V. Gopala Gowda and Justice B.N. Mohapatra sought clarification from the state government by way of issuing notices returnable within four weeks,” petitioner counsel Sukanta Dalai told The Telegraph.

Chilika has a small population of Irrawaddy dolphins. Apart from Chilika, these rare dolphins are found in just one other place in the world — Songkhla Lake in Thailand.

“The dolphins attract 1.5 lakh tourists each year in Chilika, generating revenue of around Rs 8 crore annually. But the state government has done little to safeguard the dolphins,” the petitioner alleged.

According to the petition more than 250 boats are being used to take tourists around the lake for sighting the dolphins. Besides, over 4,000 mechanised boats are operating in the lake for fishing and prawn cultivation. Most of these engines leak fuel and lubricants into the lake, causing pollution. Unless this is checked, it will adversely affect the fish and shrimp populations on which the dolphins feed.

Another threat to the dolphins is the use of zero nets or mono-filament gill nets in unauthorised prawn gherries, which are almost invisible in the water. Since they are sensitive animals, they are likely to die of shock due to efforts to free themselves.

“The state government is taking no steps to prevent use of zero nets in Chilika”, the petition alleged.