Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Irrawaddy Dolphins, Orcaella brevirostris

Description & Behavior

Irrawaddy dolphins, Orcaella brevirostris (Owen in Gray, 1866), aka Mekong or Mahakam River dolphin, reach 2-2.75 external m in length. The color of Irrawaddy dolphins is dark blue to dark gray ranging to pale gray, with a pale ventral (under) side. They have a high rounded forehead and no beak. Their U-shaped blowhole is located to the left of the midline on their dorsal (upper) side and opens to the front, unlike other species. They have a small, blunt, rounded triangular dorsal fin and large flippers. Like other river dolphins their neck is highly flexible, which enables them to forage in shallow water. They have narrow, pointed, peg-like teeth about 1 cm in length in both their upper and lower jaws. Two unique anatomical features of Irrawaddy dolphins are that they do not have a cardiac sphincter external and the stomach is subdivided into compartments. They are not acrobatic dolphins and are not known to bowride external; however they have been observed leaping from the water.
Irrawaddy dolphins dive for an average of 30-60 seconds but longer dives have been recorded of up to 12 minutes. Although they are generally slow swimmers, a swim rate of 25 external kph was recorded for one individual. This species is usually seen in small groups consisting of <6 animals, but groups of between 10-15 have been reported. This species spends most of their time feeding. They display a unique behavior of expelling a stream of water up to 1.5 external m which is thought to be used to herd fish. Fishermen have reported Irrawaddy river dolphins stunning large fish then playing with them before they eat them.

Irrawaddy dolphins are not thought to communicate through vocal signals.

World Range & Habitat

Irrawaddy dolphins, Orcaella brevirostris, are found in the coastal waters and large rivers of Southeast Asia, Northern Australia, and Papua New Guinea. They prefer coastal, brackish, and fresh water of the tropical and sub-tropical Indo-Pacific.

Feeding Behavior (Ecology)

Irrawaddy dolphins, Orcaella brevirostris, feed on fishes, crustaceans, cephalopods, and fish eggs. Two species of cyprinid fish external, Cirrihinus siamensis and Paralaubuca typus, are thought to be important food sources for Irrawaddy dolphins found in northeastern Cambodia and Laos. Carp is the primary species consumed in other areas.

Life History

Little is known about the reproductive habits of Irrawaddy dolphins. It is thought that they reach sexual maturity when they are around 4-6 years old. Their mating season is believed to occur between April-June in the Semayang Lake/Mahakam River area of Kalimantan, Indonesia, based on the birth of calves born in captivity in Jakarta between July-December. Their gestation period is estimated at about 14 months. Newborns measured following birth in captivity were 96 external cm long and weighed 12.3 external kg. During their first 7 months, calves increased in length by 57 external cm (59%) and in weight by 32.7 external kg (266%). One calf was nursed for about 2 years, although it began consuming fish at 6 months.

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