Irrawaddy dolphins | WWF

Historically, Mekong's Irrawaddy dolphins were distributed throughout the lower Mekong River from southern Lao through to the Mekong delta in Vietnam, and into many of its tributaries including Cambodia’s Tonle Sap.

Today, it is estimated that less than 85 animals survive in a stretch of the Mekong River between Cambodia and Lao, placing the species on the verge of extinction locally.

Mekong River Irrawaddy dolphins are recognized throughout local folklore and highly regarded by the Khmer and Lao people.

According to Cambodian myth, people believed that the Irrawaddy dolphin is a fair maiden with the body of a fish. As the story goes, a beautiful maiden was forced by her parents to marry a magical python but decided to cast herself into the Mekong River. Her suicide bid failed and she was transformed into a dolphin.

Why are Irrawaddy dolphins threatened?

  • pollutants from industry and agriculture
  • fishing causing both stock depletion and entanglement in fishing gears
  • current hydropower developments upstream and in tributaries
  • proposed hydropower developments on the mainstream Mekong within core dolphin habitats
  • aquatic and riparian ecosystem degradation
  • inadequate legislative protection and management
  • the multi-faceted problem of climate change
► NEWS: Urgent action needed to avoid extinction of Mekong dolphins

How is WWF protecting dolphins in the Greater Mekong region?

In Cambodia, the Commission for Dolphin Conservation and Ecotourism Development, a government body, and the Cambodian Mekong Dolphin Conservation Project, a joint initiative by the Fisheries Administration, WWF and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) implement dolphin conservation management strategies.