The Irrawaddy Dolphin, Orcaella brevirostris, is listed as ‘Vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™. A distinctive dolphin with a rounded head and no beak, this species is patchily distributed in shallow, coastal waters of the Indo-Pacific, and also occurs in three large river systems – the Ayeyarwady in Myanmar, the Mekong in Cambodia, and the Mahakam in Borneo, Indonesia.
The main threat to the Irrawaddy dolphin is entanglement in gillnets. Habitat loss and degradation from habitat change, dam construction, sedimentation, and vessel traffic are additional concerns. These dolphins are revered in many parts of Asia. Five subpopulations, including all three freshwater populations, have suffered dramatic declines in range and numbers and are considered Critically Endangered.
The Irrawaddy Dolphin is legally protected from deliberate capture in most of its range, and specially protected areas have been designated in several areas. Restrictions on the use of gillnets are necessary to reduce entanglement mortality. The use of non-entangling and more selective gear is to be encouraged.