Populations of endangered Ganges and Indus river dolphins have been under severe threat from diversion of river water by dams, barrages, and canal networks across the Indus and Ganges–Brahmaputra river basins. River dolphins prefer deep water and might enter irrigation canals in the dry-season, getting stranded there. Stranding can cause mortality and local population declines, and poses an emerging challenge to river dolphin conservation efforts. In Pakistan’s Indus river basin, stranding rates of Indus dolphins in irrigation canals are high, and well-coordinated rescue-release operations are undertaken. Despite commendable river dolphin rescue efforts in some parts of India, stranding cases are not always reported. From open-access media reports (2007–08 to 2017–18), I found 26 stranding cases of Ganges river dolphins from the Ghaghara–Sharada canal network across seven districts of Uttar Pradesh, India. Of these, 62% reports were from 2015 to 2016. Most cases occurred in secondary and tertiary canal branches. Interviews with fishers, farmers, and government officials revealed low awareness of stranding cases. Stranded dolphins might have no chance of returning to their source habitat, unless rescued. From my results, I discuss how current barrage-canal operations could influence dolphin stranding risk, and their implications for flow management in the Ghaghara–Sharada river basin.
Acknowledgments: I am thankful to my M.Sc. supervisor Dr. Salil Dhawan, DCF & Course Coordinator M.Sc. Program, Forest Research Institute, and co-supervisor Dr. Shailendra Singh, Country Director-Turtle Survival Alliance, for their vital inputs to my thesis, on which this paper is based. Researchers and staff of the Forest Research Institute-Dehradun and the Turtle Survival Alliance-Lucknow provided basic administrative and field support. I thank Mr. S.K. Upadhyay, IFS, the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests of the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department, and the Office of the Engineer-in-Chief & HOD, Irrigation and Water Resources Department, Lucknow, UP, for providing research permissions for my fieldwork and for the canal survey of river dolphins I undertook. In particular I would like to thank Mr. S.K. Srivastav (Executive Engineer, IDUP-Shardanagar) and Mr. V. Yadav (Junior Engineer) of Sharada barrage for their kind inputs on the basic working of the canal system, field accommodation, and logistical support. I thank my field assistant Mr. Ram Swarup and the Turtle Survival Alliance, without whom this work would not have been possible. I would like to thank the anonymous reviewers and editors of Mammalia who improved this manuscript substantially.
Author contribution: All the authors have accepted responsibility for the entire content of this submitted manuscript and approved submission.
Research funding: The study was self-funded.
Conflict of interest statement: No potential conflict of interest is reported by the author.
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The online version of this article offers supplementary material (https://doi.org/10.1515/mammalia-2019-0110).
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