The Marine National Park (MNP) in the Gulf of Kutch is a veritable tourist attraction, mostly for flocks of migratory birds and live corals. Now, an added attraction in the Park is the dolphin.
The area has seen a spectacular surge in dolphin population, so much so that the Gujarat forest department has planned to introduce a special safari at MNP.
The department’s first official census in December unveiled a tally of 211 dolphins, almost doubling the count from 111 two decades ago. Buoyed by the resurgence, the department is launching awareness campaigns and have proposed to form a task force with the coast guard, local police, and forest officials to monitor the area. Like the lion safari in Sasan, there are plans to register some boats and permit them for tourism in the area.
This project would focus on the safe release of dolphins caught in fishing nets, with compensation for fishermen, like the approach taken with whale sharks.
The Indian Ocean humpback dolphins (Sousa plumbea) are now considered resident species, with sightings occurring throughout the year. They are more frequently spotted near the shore during the winter. Experts say there could be more dolphins in the region than the census figures reveal. They are spread from the northern part of the Gulf of Kutch to Okha.
While the report of 211 dolphins is encouraging, caution is warranted due to the declining dolphin populations along the Indian coast. This decline prompted the Centre to launch Project Dolphin, modelled after Project Tiger and managed by the Wildlife Institute of India, said a senior official.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has classified Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins as vulnerable due to various threats they face, including habitat loss, water pollution, coastal development, overfishing, and increased marine traffic. Indian Ocean humpback dolphins were only recognized as a distinct species in 2014.