The dolphins came right up to me as I entered the water. They began to swim around me, kiss me and let me touch them. As I whistled gleefully, one came near me and splashed water all over me. It gently rose out of the water, rested his head on my shoulder and touched his fins on my sides. I hugged him gently, he stayed there until I let go, then he gently slipped away into the water”.
I have always been fascinated by dolphins, a wonderful creation of Mother Nature. They are fun loving marine mammals. They are intelligent, friendly, and playful. It is possible that they have been trying to interact with humans for a long time, but it has been only in the past few decades that humans have started to look at them as intelligent and complex individuals. Dolphin and human interaction programs are becoming popular and for children, these programs provide entertainment as well as educational value. For some, interacting in the wild with dolphins is a spiritual experience bringing them closer to the glory of God.
In the United States, amusement parks providing dolphin shows are popular tourist attractions and every year, tens of thousands of families spend their fun filled holidays at dolphin parks. Recently, I was pleasantly surprised when I came to know about a dolphin tourist attraction in our home state of Assam.
Very native to Assam and its culture, the dolphin is called xihu in Assamese. They were abundant in the Brahmaputra river system from Sadia in the north to Dhubri on the Indo-Bangladesh border in the past. Today, these beautiful creatures face grave threat of extinction, their very existence known only by a cluster of people in Assam. Their habitat shrinking, high pressure from indiscriminate fishing, apart from the intentional killing for extraction of oil are major causes for dolphin depletion.
In an effort to help the campaign to save the highly endangered dolphins in the Brahmaputra and its tributaries, the Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research (C-NES) has launched a project, “Prompting Conservation, Saving the Gangetic Dolphins, Creating Livelihoods and Eco-tourism”. C-NES is working in three districts of Assam – Tinsukia, Kamrup and Dhubri – to develop a community-based campaign that includes local groups in the conservation process and to create awareness of these beautiful creatures. Efforts in the campaign include training of village groups in understanding the value of the dolphins, and that if protected and conserved, the dolphins can be a huge attraction for tourists and visitors on a regular basis and also for scientists and scholars who would come and have a unique and educational experience observing these creatures in their natural habitat. This has began to take off in a few areas: Kukuramra in Kamrup, Kulsi River at Dhubri and Guijan of Tinsukia District. Kukuramra, near Chaygoan, is about 45 min from Guwahati on the road to Goalpara and a number of visitors including Delhi-based diplomats from Switzerland, Sweden and Ireland have visited this place to view the xihu or the Gangetic dolphin. The local community has arranged boat trips to the river and also a guide to narrate interesting facts and stories about the lovable dolphins.
C-NES has also initiated a process of training for local fishermen on “alternative fish bait” to dolphin oil. For centuries dolphins were hunted for their blubber, which is used as fish bait. They are trapped in gill nets and killed for their oil. C-NES is educating fishermen and providing training on developing and using alternative oils. Recently, a team of fishermen from Dhubri traveled to Patna Science College, Bihar, for training on “alternative oil prepared from fish viscera” (petu). These fishermen have successfully tested the new method at Dhubri Ghat upon return. It is expected that this method will reduce the killing of the depleting dolphins and redirect trade to local fish.
God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky.” We have these beautiful creatures living right in the River Brahmaputra of which only a few are aware. Dear Reader, do not miss the beauty, the very essence of purity and innocence of these god-like creatures. The mighty river Brahmaputra beckons you for a view and to swim with these wondrous mammals; you will begin to open yourself to the embrace of a world that pulsates with love and life, and an enlightening experience in which you seldom get to partake.
By Ankur Bora, Dallas, Texas