Irrawaddy dolphins (Orcaella brevirostris) are air-breathing mammals that live in the sea. They are grey to slate blue in color that gets lighter on the underbelly. They do not have a pronounced snout like other dolphins and have broad and rounded flippers. Irrawaddy dolphins resemble beluga whales but are more related to killer whales.
Marine mammals such as the Irrawaddy dolphins play an important role in our marine ecosystem. As the top predator, they maintain the balance in the sea by preying on the “big predatory fish” as well as the weak and ailing fish.
Globally, Irrawaddy dolphins are classified as ‘Endangered’ by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Species. This means that the global population of animals is decreasing due to human activities.
In the Philippines, there are three (3) critically endangered sub-populations of Irrawaddy dolphins, these can be found in Malampaya Sound and the Municipality of Quezon (both in Palawan) with the third sub-population in the Iloilo and Guimaras Strait, discovered in 2007 and 2010 respectively. The dolphins are always seen near the river delta and coastal waters of Bago City and Pulupandan Municipality in Negros Occidental.
Scientists, with the help of local communities, discovered the Irrawaddies of Negros Occidental in 2010. Since then, numerous studies have been carried out regarding their population, habitat, and surrounding communities. As early as 2014, conservation and management plans have been drawn up by scientists and researchers identifying the steps to fully protect the last remaining Irrawaddies of Negros.
To date, there has been very little action in convening the management agencies and implementing the plans laid out by scientists to save the last remaining Irrawaddys of Negros. The dolphins continue to die on an average of one individual per year. For the last two years, three Irrawaddy dolphins have died, including a juvenile last 25 September 2020. Scientists estimate that there are only approximately 10 to 13 remaining individual dolphins left in Negros Occidental. This kind of mortality rate is alarming given the very small number of Irrawaddys in Negros.
Given the urgency in protecting this last population from extinction, the undersigned scientists, environmentalists, animal welfare organizations, and concerned Filipinos are calling on the DENR-BMB, the DA-BFAR, and the LGUs of Bago and Pulupandan in Negros Occidental to work together to immediately undertake the following:
Declare the entire habitat of the Irrawaddy dolphins as a Marine Protected Area (MPA).
Declare no-boat/slow- boat zones; declare no fishing areas and/or regulate fishing gears; regular and active patrolling of bantay dagat, and; investigation of marine pollutants, among other initial actions.
Immediately convene the MPA Management Board to be headed by the local governments of Bago City, the Municipality of Pulupandan and the Province of Negros Occidental to finalize and implement management plans for the conservation of the Irrawaddy dolphins;
Ensure intensive, regular, and year-round monitoring of the Irrawaddy, habitat, including all waters emptying into the Guimaras Strait;
Coordination with all fisherfolk communities in the establishment of the Marine Protected Area for Irrawaddy dolphins;
Immediate livelihood support for the fisherfolk who will be affected by the Marine Protected Area.