Thursday, January 30, 2014

Next destination in Bangladesh

At the end of my last day in the Sundarban’s I shared a hired car with Manish and headed about an hour west to my next destination, Khulna. Manish attends Khulna University here, and I will be following him over the next few days to learn more about his life and research here.  

The "Dolphin House"
Khulna is also where the “Dolphin House” of the BCDP is
BCDP "Dolphin House", 
Khulna, Bangladesh 
(JLewis, TDRF)
located. This location serves as a home base for the other students, researchers and volunteers that work for this group, including doctoral student,
Zahangir Alom who I get the chance to interview today.

Zahangir has been investigating habitat characteristics of the areas where the Ganges river dolphins are found in the Sundarbans, such as what types of fish are found there, or what are the 
preferred salinities where this dolphin is found? It is important to understand what characteristics are preferred by this species so that conservationists will understand better which areas are the most important for its continued survival.

Zahangir Alom, doctoral student working with BCDP in Khulna, Bangladesh (JLewis, TDRF)

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Day Two Sundarbans

While we got some good shots of the dolphins on the first day, I want to try again for more. Today we get lucky and locate a few dolphins almost at the dock. This allows me to capture some images of them with boats and the town in the background.
Ganges river dolphin near Mongla, Bangladesh (JLewis, TDRF)
Dolphins in many areas prefer habitat that happens to be heavily used by humans. Coincidently sometimes. Other times it is because the habitat is something good for the humans also (e.g., good fishing habitat). Here in the Sundarbans, the port of Mongla is at a confluence. So the area is preferred for feeding by the dolphins and is also a high boat traffic area because of the port presence. Having intense traffic where dolphins are found has been shown to be a problem for dolphins. Dolphins have to move to avoid the boats, and to do so must use more energy then they would otherwise. Avoidance movement also takes time away from feeding. So it can add up negatively in that way also. This energy loss can be significant. For example, in one population of killer whales (the largest dolphin species), they suffer 18% reduction in daily energy just from avoiding boats (Williams etal. 2006)

Monday, January 27, 2014

In the Sundarbans!

Mongla, Bangladesh (JLewis, TDRF)
The hotel is a short walking distance from the docks and I meet my volunteer guide from the BCDP in the lobby, Manish Datta. Manish is a graduate student at Khulna University (where I will be travelling in two days to film others working in the local BCDP offices).  His research focus is on the by-catch of dolphins in fishing gear. By-catch, particularly in gill nets, is a big problem for this species, and many other aquatic species in rivers and in the oceans.

Manish helps search for dolphins in the Sundarbans, 

Bangladesh (JLewis, TDRF)

We have hired a boat captain and are heading out to search for dolphins to film. This turns out to be a pretty easy feat. This species in particular prefers deeper, slower moving waters, which tend to be found at confluences (where river tributaries meet). Very near this port are two confluences. And we locate river dolphins foraging at both locations. The bad news was….this was simply…..hands down….the absolute hardest dolphin I have ever attempted to film. I have spent most of my career doing this (capturing photos of dolphins as they surface) on multiple species. The Ganges river dolphin 1) do not travel in groups (groups make it easier to anticipate where others will surface), and 2) surfaces ridiculously fast. So fast, you barely have time to focus your eyes much less your camera. The good news is that for the dolphins we located, they seemed to like the locations they were in and stayed for hours. This allowed us to anchor and let me work as hard as I could to capture them. It took a LOT of patience, but we were successful.

Ganges river dolphin, Sundarbans, Bangladesh (JLewis, TDRF)

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Heading to Mongla

Sundarbans, Bangladesh (JLewis, TDRF)
So today I start to travel again. This time south to an area called the Sundarbans. The Sundarbans is the largest mangrove forest on the planet. It extends across the coast of Bangladesh and into southeast India.  Here, in Bangladesh, may be one of, if not THE largest subpopulation of Ganges river dolphins left (estimated to be at least 200).  So the area is obviously critical for their continued survival. Because of this, the BCDP has worked to establish sanctuaries (three have been created) in what they believe are some of the most important areas within the Sundarbans for 
this species.

Map of Sundarbans showing location of Mongla at top right (source:

Mongla, Bangladesh (JLewis, TDRF)
To access the Sundarbans, I must travel to a small town called Mongla. To get here I fly from Dhaka to Jessore, and then a driver takes me another three hours to my destination. Tomorrow I head out on the water, where I hope to finally see the Ganges river dolphin!