Saturday, December 12, 2009

Dolphin spotting at Don Khone


The old French disused railway lines slices through Don Khone but is full of small rocks so I opted for the path that heads north out of the village and around the eastern edge of the island. It’s a pleasant 45-minute cycle ride through villages and forest before arriving at Ban Hang Kon. Here, small boats launch into the lower Mekong for a chance of spotting the critically endangered Mekong or Irrawaddy dolphin. According to the WWF there are only 80—120 of the dolphins left in the lower Mekong between Laos and Cambodia. Here, on the riverine border, the dolphins collect in deep river pools, especially in the dry season.
Our small boat headed out into the intense heat of a December morning to scan the surface for these elusive creatures. According to Laos and Cambodian lore the dolphin is revered so is never deliberately hunted. One of the reasons for their dwindling numbers is the fact that the dolphin gets accidentally caught in fishermen’s nets.
In silence we glided into the centre of the river, the odd clump of vegetation on a tiny sand bank obscuring our view. The river shimmered in the sun making it hard to spot movement. Then it happened, the unmistakeable shape of a large mammal rising out of the water; then two of them. They were still at quite a distance so we decided to pay the extra 10,000 kip to the Cambodian authorities so we could get closer to them across the border. The dolphins continued to rise out of the water for air, fins on show; we also caught a glimpse of a head. It was thrilling to be on the water and to see the dolphins surfacing in their natural habitat.

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