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Finding the Irrawaddy Dolphins of the Mekong River

Cambodia is home to a rare freshwater dolphin called the Irrawaddy dolphin.  It is found in a few other countries in Southeast Asia (Bangladesh, Thailand, Philippines), but its numbers are few.  Wikipedia reports that in a 190 km stretch of the Mekong River between Cambodia and Laos, there are only between 78-91 of these dolphins.  Extremely rare.

I really wanted to catch a glimpse of this rare beast, so I made my way to a small town called Kratie in East Cambodia.  Located directly on the Mekong River, Kratie is known for being a good site to view the dolphins.

The mighty Mekong River during wet season.  Trees get completely submerged when it floods the area

The mighty Mekong River during wet season. Trees get completely submerged when it floods the area

The Irrawaddy dolphin is the main reason for tourism in Kratie.  As such, there is actually a fairly organized infrastructure for dolphin viewing.  For $9.00 per person (and $7.00 per person in groups of 3 or more), a boat shuttles you around the Mekong River in search of the dolphins.

Our motivated boat driver

Our motivated boat driver

Regardless of whether or not I saw the dolphins, riding up and down the Mekong was fascinating.  We saw fisherman that were earning their livelihood on the great river the same way that their ancestors had before them.  Because it is rainy season, the river was completely flooded and it covered land that is usually dry.  In our boat, we dodged tops of trees that were almost completely submerged in the flooding river.  Very cool.

A fisherman on the shore of the Mekong

A fisherman on the shore of the Mekong

After about 45 minutes of riding around the Mekong, we finally came across a group of dolphins.  In total, there were about 7, and they appeared to be fishing in a rather rapid section of the river.  We stayed and watched the dolphins for about a half hour.  It was really interesting to see the irrawaddy dolphins swimming around in an area that is usually land in the dry season.  Despite the fact that Wikipedia reports that these dolphins are known to jump out of the water, we encountered nothing like this-they were too busy fishing.

An Irrawaddy dolphin taking a breath of air

An Irrawaddy dolphin taking a breath of air

Seeing these dolphins was interesting, but I wish that I had gotten a bit closer to them to really see their physical differences from bottle nosed dolphins.  It was  weird to think that less than a month earlier, I was hunting dolphins with fisherman from an Indonesian village and now I was casually observing them.  Crazy.  However, the real enjoyment of the trip was traveling down the legendary Mekong River during wet season.  It was definitely a cool experience.

Patrolling the front of the boat while riding down the Mekong River

Patrolling the front of the boat while riding down the Mekong River

 

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