Mekong River dolphins—also called the Irrawaddy dolphins—are a critically endangered species of dolphins that exist in isolated populations in river mouths and estuaries from Borneo and Indonesia to the Philippines and Southeast Asia. While this may seem like a large area, the total worldwide population is estimated at only about 7,000 animals.
The Mekong dolphins that once thrived all along most of the 2,700 mile length of the Mekong River in Cambodia, the Mekong River in Thailand, the Mekong River in Laos, and into the Mekong Delta in Vietnam now number only about 60 to 100 animals. This small pocket of Mekong River dolphins is limited to a short stretch of 100 miles of river in Cambodia between the capital of Phnom Penh and the bustling riverside town of Kratie.
The town of Kratie is the center for tours to see the Mekong dolphins and for viewing some rich French colonial era architecture, which largely escaped the bombings that devastated so many other areas of the country during the American Vietnam War. Tours to view these rare creatures often include tours of the beautiful city of Phnom Penh and a visit to one of the Angkorian temples en route to Kratie. Small motor boats bring visitors to the deep water pools where the rare creatures live, and then a switch is made to paddle boats in order to minimize any disruption to the environment. Most Mekong River cruises through Cambodia will have a day excursion to visit the dolphins. The best sightings are made during the dry season when the river's waters are shallower.
Image: Wojohowitz (flickr)