A research team from the agriculture ministry’s Fisheries Administration and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) on October 3 confirmed a sighting of a new Irrawaddy dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris) calf, estimated to be two weeks old. The specimen was photographed on October 2.

The photograph was taken when the research team spotted the calf swimming with four adult dolphins during a survey of the dolphin habitat area 3km upstream of Kampi deep pool in northern Kratie province’s Sambor district, according to a WWF social media post.

WWF-Cambodia country director Seng Teak told The Post on October 4 that the new dolphin calf was an excellent sign. The WWF and the fisheries administration were excited to welcome the newcomer.

He said this was the sixth calf recorded this year, although four had perished, raising concerns.

“The birth rate is high, which is something to celebrate, but when the birth and mortality rates are similar, it is something that worries us,” he said.

According to Teak, the exact reason for the deaths of the four calves this year is unknown.

He said the most worrying potential causes were illegal fishing equipment including nets or electric shock devices.

“Prohibited fishing tools should not be used in the dolphin sanctuary. Therefore, we are calling for stricter enforcement, lest other newborn dolphins be affected,” he added.

He said that apart from illegal fishing, there were a number of other issues that could threaten Cambodian dolphins, including changes in water flow and climate change.

“We have a small population of dolphins, which needs to be conserved and strictly protected. We need to address some of the risks caused by humans,” he added.

The population is ranked critically endangered on the IUCN Red List, the the highest class of extinction risk. In 2020, the population was estimated at 89 individuals in the Cambodian Mekong River.

Mok Ponlok, Kratie fisheries administration director, told The Post on October 4 that when he heard about the newborn calf, he posted additional staff to patrol the area.

“Once I received the report, I was so excited. I have spoken to my teams in the Kampi area. They will increase their vigilance until the little one is grown,” he said.

He added that his patrolling officials were passionate about protecting the dolphin conservation areas and the biodiversity of the Mekong.