A recent video and photos released by the charity organization Karmagawa showcased the lifeless body of an Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin, also known as the Irrawaddy dolphin, found on the shores of Toboali Beach in southern Sumatra, Indonesia. The dolphin was surrounded by various plastic debris, appearing to have a smiling expression in its final moments.
The local resident who first discovered the dolphin’s remains, Iwan Fadil, shared the video on Instagram, expressing concern over the tragic discovery. While the exact cause of death remains unknown, the incident highlights the harsh reality faced by endangered marine species, such as dolphins, suffering from plastic pollution.
The charity organization Karmagawa emphasized that such tragedies occur worldwide on a daily basis, urging people to consider their impact on the planet. Through their Instagram account with 1.45 million followers, they raise awareness about animal cruelty, environmental pollution, and climate crisis. Additionally, they engage in charitable initiatives like building schools in countries such as Nepal, Laos, Cambodia, and Ghana.
The Irrawaddy dolphin, often referred to as the “smiling dolphin” due to its round forehead and short snout, inhabits freshwater rivers, estuaries, and coastal areas in Southeast Asia, including the Irrawaddy, Ganges, and Mekong rivers. However, pollution and illegal fishing have led to a significant decline in their population, classifying them as an endangered species according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The recent discovery of deceased dolphins trapped in illegal nets in Cambodia prompted a complete ban on fishing activities in their habitats.
Both the Irrawaddy dolphin and the native Korean species, the Yangtze finless porpoise, face similar challenges. Lee Young-ran, CEO of Plan Ocean, stated that these dolphins are endemic to certain regions in Asia and are critically endangered due to human activities such as habitat loss, entanglement, and marine debris. Concerns have also been raised about the Yangtze finless porpoise, which was designated as a protected marine species by the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries in South Korea. Recent cases of stranded and deceased porpoises found in the coastal areas of Yeosu and Goheung have caused alarm and highlighted the urgent need for conservation efforts.
Illegal operations, ghost nets, accidental entanglement, and marine litter are among the primary threats to the survival of these river dolphins. Recent research conducted by Professor Kim Tae-won and his team from Inha University’s Department of Marine Science in South Korea revealed the presence of substantial microplastic contamination in the bodies of stranded finless porpoises and other marine mammals found in domestic waters.
The devastating consequences of plastic pollution on marine life, as exemplified by the tragic fate of the smiling dolphin, underscore the urgent need for global action to address this environmental crisis and protect endangered species from further harm.