"Fishermen in Bangladesh beat a rare river dolphin to death because they had not seen "This kind of creature before," According to local news accounts" CNN January 30, 2008



I realize that there are a thousand things that take precedence away from teaching ecological awareness in places like Bangladesh. Putting food in ones mouth is probably chief among them. Still, I find it appalling that fishermen are so out of touch with the river in which they fish that they do not know that river dolphins live there.
Click here for excellent footage of Ganges River Dolphins
Sure, they are elusive and their numbers are few. Frankly, after visiting the Ganges at Varanasi during a trip to India, I am amazed that anything can survive in it or that anyone would be willing to eat fish that come from it. Still, I find it appalling that fisherman, of all people, would be unaware of the existence and features of these dolphins. In every place I have ever been it is the fisherman who know more about the water and the creatures that live in it than anyone else. Biologists may know the details but rarely have the firsthand broad knowledge of the water that a fisherman has.

It begs a few simple questions. Has the stark poverty and hand to mouth nature of living in Bangladesh had a hand in destroying the knowledge of the river? Has stark survival or other problems meant that people can no longer expend the energy to pass down the knowledge of their physical surroundings. Has pollution changed the environment enough that traditional knowledge no longer applies and is thus ignored? Has political upheaval and population dynamics caused fisherman to leave and be replaced with people less familiar with the water in which they ply their trade?

Whatever the reason, the fact that such a large animal could be mistaken for a fish and also be completely unknown by fisherman in the area points to a complete breakdown of the connection between the people and the river that is usually present in artisanal fisheries such as this. It is just one more example of why our fisheries are on the brink of collapsing like a house of cards. As an aquatic ecologist and someone who is very interested in community mangagement of artisanal fisheries this story hits a very sad note.