Cambodia // The northeast //

Irrawaddy dolphins


Freshwater rivers, such as the Irrawaddy and Mekong in Southeast Asia, and the shallow tropical zones of the Indian and Pacific oceans, constitute the habitat of the Irrawaddy dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris). In the Mekong they now inhabit just a 190km stretch in the north of Cambodia, and can be spotted most easily at Kampie and north of Stung Treng near the Laos border, with occasional sightings elsewhere; in 2001, a pair were found just a few kilometres north of Phnom Penh.

Irrawaddy dolphins look more like porpoises than marine dolphins. The head is rounded, and the forehead protrudes slightly over a straight mouth; noticeably, unlike their seagoing cousins, they have no beak. Their dorsal fins are small and basically triangular, though slightly rounded. They vary from dark blue-grey to slate grey and pale grey, and are darker on the back than the belly.

Irrawaddy dolphins reach maturity at around 5 years of age, when they can measure up to 2.75m in length and weigh up to 200kg. More low-key in behaviour than the marine dolphin, they seldom leap out of the water, instead arching gracefully to expose their heads and backs for a moment before diving again. Family groups, or pods, usually consist of around six individuals, but larger groups are not unknown. In spite of good breeding rates, there is a high rate of calf mortality, which remains unexplained.

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