India’s first dolphin observatory coming up in Bihar

Good news for dolphin enthusiasts – the Bihar government is setting up India’s first observatory for the mammals in Bhagalpur district. Construction at the Vikramshila Gangetic Dolphin Sanctuary (VGDS) in the state’s Bhagalpur district is scheduled to be completed by early next year.

“This is going to be a positive development despite the fact that it was delayed. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had announced the building of a dolphin observatory three to four years ago,” Sunil Choudhary, director of Vikramshila Biodiversity Research and Education Centre of Tilka Manjhi Bhagalpur University, said.

The structural design of the observatory is such that it will promote eco-tourism. “It will give people an incentive to visit the place and see dolphins in the sanctuary without disturbing them,” Choudhary said.

“There would be no bad or adverse impact on the river’s ecology as the observatory is being constructed on a bridge over the Ganga,” he added.

The observatory is being built on the Sultanganj-Aguwani Ghat bridge over the Ganga, Alok Kumar Jha, an official of the private construction company engaged in the ongoing construction of the dolphin observatory, said.

“It will be in the middle of the river, where bridge’s width will be nearly 100 feet. We have completed construction of four special pillars for this structure in the river,” he said.

The four-storey observatory will be 40 feet high, with the bridge passing through its middle. “The observatory building will be transparent, with glass from all sides to ensure people can watch the dolphins,” Jha said.

There will be a cafeteria at the dolphin observatory complex, along with a facility to park 75 vehicles.

Dolphin numbers

The endangered Gangetic dolphin, India’s national aquatic animal, has reportedly become more visible in the VGDS due to minimum human activity on the Ganga during the ongoing novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown.

However, there was no quantitative estimate of dolphin numbers during the lockdown period as no survey had been conducted, Choudhary said.

However, it was true that the numbers of dolphins appearing on the river’s surface had increased in the dolphin sanctuary and other places, he added.

Dolphins were being spotted at places where they had not been seen due to human activities, Choudhary was informed by local fishermen, who visited the river twice or thrice during lockdown.

“We have noticed that the condition of the dolphins’ natural habitat improved during lockdown, water became cleaner and human disturbances were minimised. But it is too early to reach any conclusion without data,” he added.

According to the latest estimate, there were nearly 170 dolphins in the sanctuary, Gopal Sharma, regional head of the Zoological Survey of India, Bihar and Jharkhand, said.

The last survey of Bihar’s dolphin population was conducted in 2018. It was found that there were 1,363 dolphins in the rivers in the state.

Going by this number, Bihar is home to around half of the estimated 2,500-3,000 Gangetic dolphins in India.

There was a need to build a second dolphin observatory in the state, Sharma said.

“The state government should build another dolphin observatory at the confluence of the Ganga and Punpun rivers near Fatuha in Patna,” he said. “Between five and 15 dolphins are visible at the site at all times of the year. It could turn into a big draw for people,” Sharma added.

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