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Rare dolphins make Negros coastal waters their home

About 30 to 40 Irrawaddy dolphins, one of the world's rarest and most threatened species, have been spotted in the coastal waters of Negros Occidental province in Western Visayas. According to the Visayan Daily Star news site, the Irrawaddy dolphins (Orcaella brevirostris) are found mostly in Bago City and Pulupandan town in Negros Occidental. Dr. Louella Dolar heads a team of scientists who are determining the actual size of the dolphin population, how far they roam in the area, and the significance of the Negros coastal waters to the dolphins. Irrawaddy dolphins are found mainly in the Indo-Pacific region. They are coastal animals and they prefer brackish, shallow and protected waters, Dolar explained. She said the the Irawaddy population declined drastically in recent years because the dolphins’ habitat overlaps with areas used by people. With the exception of a newly discovered population of about 6,000 Irrawaddy dolphins in Bangladesh, the marine animals are often found in small patches near estuaries and lagoons, she said. The species has been declared by the World Conservation Union (IUCN Red List) as “vulnerable." Five subpopulations, including the Malampaya Sound population comprising 77 dolphins, have been declared as “critically endangered," Dolar said. Dolar said the Bago-Pulupandan coast is only the third area in the Philippines where the presence of this species of dolphin has been documented. For a while, it was thought that the Malampaya Sound in Palawan was the only place where this species was found, she added. In 2005 however, an Irrawaddy dolphin got tangled in a fishing net in Iloilo Strait, Dolar said, citing reports. In 2007, a population of those dolphins were found near Guimaras island. According to Dolar, they began the survey in April 2010, when they first documented the presence of the dolphins. They returned this month to learn more about the dolphins. The project is being funded by the National Geographic Conservation Trust and Ocean Park Conservation Foundation, Hong Kong and will continue for another year. Dolar said surveys conducted in Iloilo and Guimaras in 2009 led to the discovery of another population in Bago and Pulupandan. Dolar is a marine biologist from the Tropical Marine Research for Conservation in San Diego, California. She is a visiting scientist at the Institute of Environmental and Marine Sciences of Silliman University in Dumaguete City. –VVP, GMANews.TV