KHULNA, BANGLADESH (August 29, 2017) – Dramatic video released today by the Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) Marine Program shows a group of Bangladeshi fishermen rescuing a pantropical spotted dolphin (Stenella attenuata) that became entangled in their net in the Bay of Bengal.

The captain of the vessel, Younus Kholifa, is part of a Citizen Science Fishermen Safety Network pioneered by WCS and supported by WorldFish through the USAID EcoFish Project.  As part of the project, fishermen use a GPS to collect scientific data on accidental entanglements of dolphins, marine turtles, sharks and rays.

After the crew, had set their nets for hilsa, an important foodfish and delicacy in Bangladesh, Captain Kholifa became concerned when he saw a school of dolphins nearby. Shortly thereafter, one of the crew spotted a struggle in the net. When they realized a dolphin had become entangled, they quickly and carefully brought the 250-pound animal on board where they cut the net free.

The crew knew from training given by WCS that these dolphins are air breathing mammals and, if they become entangled, it is critical to rescue them as quickly as possible because otherwise they will drown. Local fishermen consider dolphins as their brethren at sea. When the animal safely swam away the crew celebrated.

After the rescue, Captain Kholifa said: “I feel very happy. Because the entanglement occurred close to the boat, this time we succeeded. It was a privilege to be part of the rescue. These animals are beneficial to all fishermen.”

WCS researcher Mahmud Rahman, who received a video of the dolphin rescue from Captain Kholifa, said: “Although it was only of one dolphin and the species is not endangered compared to other species that occur in Bangladesh, this rescue demonstrates the commitment of fishermen to save their brethren at sea.”

Abdul Wahab, Team Leader of the EcoFish Project for WorldFish said: “Data collected by the fishermen will enable us to establish no gillnet fishing zones in areas where threatened marine megafauna are concentrated while at the same time sustain productive hilsa catches.”

Captain Kholifa and his crew are proud of their role in the dolphins rescue. However, the benefits of participating in the Citizen Science Fishermen Safety Network do not stop there. Using the same GPS provided to the fishermen to collect these data, WCS trained the fishermen on how to use it to navigate to safety during extreme storms that are increasing in frequency and magnitude due climate change.

Last year the benefits of using the GPS were clearly demonstrated when during an extreme cyclone another fishing captain in the Citizen Science Fishermen Safety Network led several other fishing boats into the Sundarbans mangrove forest where they found refuge. The next day he led a search that rescued four fishermen stranded at sea and another 18 stranded on remote islands.

Said Brian Smith, Director of WCS’s Asian Coastal Cetacean Program: “This is a win-win situation for both the dolphins and the fishermen. Working with gill net fishermen, WCS is committed to saving dolphin lives and human lives. Together we stand for wildlife which is a win-win situation for all.”

The Enhanced Coastal Fisheries Project in Bangladesh (ECOFISH-Bangladesh) is a five-year initiative (2014–2019) funded by USAID and implemented jointly by WorldFish and the Department of Fisheries (DoF), Bangladesh. WCS is a partner in this project. The project supports coastal fishing communities and other key stakeholders to improve the resilience of the Meghna River ecosystem and works to strengthen the livelihoods of communities reliant on coastal fisheries.