The warm weather, the thick jungle, the smooth sounds of the flowing river; there’s no denying the natural wonder of Southeast Asia. Straddling along the equator sure helps with the region’s tropical feel and wonder. And within this vast rural jungle land are some hidden and rare gems that are unique to the region. And sometimes, these gems can be animals. Ever heard of the Irrawaddy Dolphin? Not many are left in the world, but you can be one of the few to say that you have seen one.
First, let’s get to know these guys a little bit. These so-called river dolphins (we’ll explain later) are named after the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar. However, its range extends beyond there, with reported sightings in the Indian Ganges, the Bay of Bengal, the Philippines and the Mekong throughout Southeast Asia. Yes, the dolphins have been seen in rivers, but it is in fact not quite a river marine animal. It resides in brackish waters (meaning water with higher salt levels than fresh water but not as much as ocean water) near coastlines, river mouths and in estuaries. It is even seen swimming in sea water.
So, why are they rare? First, their count is pretty low. There are estimated to be around 6000 left in the wild. Secondly, it has to do with the waters they live in. Yes, they are brackish, but they are also quite murky making it difficult to spot one. You can only really see it if they come up to the surface for air. And even then, the sly animal would not make it too obvious, only revealing a small part of its back when breathing. Talk about being shy!
And now comes the million dollar question. Where are the best places to see the Irrawaddy Dolphin?
- Irrawaddy River, Myanmar – The mammal’s naming after the river makes it the most obvious choice to spot the elusive animals. Your best bet is to go towards sea. The closer the better (as the river water near the ocean matches the previous description about their habitat).
- Kratie, Cambodia – This Mekong Riverside town is another great place to be if you want to catch these rare marine mammals. The best time to try to catch time is during the late afternoon.
- Songkla Lake, Thailand – The lake in Southern Thailand is home to some, but few. Many here are endangered due to the fishing activities in the area.
- Mahakam River, Indonesia – The river is located in East Kalimantan, on the island of Borneo. The provincial capital Samarinda is on the riverbank. Again, the closer you get to the ocean, the better your chances of seeing them are.
So, if you are out on these expeditions, make sure your camera is ready at all times. You just never know when these cunning animals are sneaking up from behind and quietly surfacing up for air.
So, why not cruise along the Mekong in Cambodia in hopes of finding one? Or perhaps an expedition along the Irrawaddy from Bagan to Mandalay is more to your liking? Either way, your chance of spotting these guys have increased greatly by just being on these bodies of water.
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