Having learned of the imminent extinction of the fresh-water Irrawaddy river dolphin, we diverted our route to Kratie in order to catch a glimpse of these rare and fascinating creatures. We had heard that the dolphins are most active two hours after sunrise, so to up our chances of a sighting we left Kratie at 7am and arrived at the Kampi boat port at 7:40.
The journey it’s self shouldn’t have taken 40 minutes, especially by motorbike and especially with a map… however, being rural(ish) Cambodia, there were three different signs on the route, all with lots of Khmer writing and a drawing of a dolphin and all pointing down dead end dirt tracks. Having driven down each of them, we doubled back, doubled back again and eventually realized that we had been right next to the boat departure point all along. This may sound like we’re navigationally or eyesight challenged but you can see for yourself, it’s not the most obvious thing in the world…
In fact, it’s just a kind of leveled dirt construction site on the roadside with a little hut in one corner. The guy manning the hut was asleep in his hammock when we arrived but with a bit of prompting, he lazily rolled out to sell us a boat ticket for $9 each. Our boatman led us down the riverbank to a bright yellow longboat which I was glad to see had a sun shade as although the sun was still low in the sky, it was already getting pretty fierce.
With only about 54 Irrawaddy dolphins left in the wild, it seemed unlikely at best that we would get to see one with our own eyes. However, to my utter surprise, within minutes of casting off the shore, I caught my first glimpse. A single dorsal fin at first, then the puff of a blow hole and before I knew it, we were surrounded by beautiful, soft grey Irrawaddies.
For the next hour it was a dolphin a minute, playing and coming up for air. Alone and in groups of two or three. I tried my very hardest to capture the action on camera but it seems that all my efforts were no competition for the ever elusive Irrawaddy. In the few pictures I did get, you can see their rounded, stumpy heads that are completely different from the bottle-nose dolphin. More like a mini-manety!
It was a surreal feeling gliding silently down the Mekong. We wove in and out of lush green islands islands while the dolphins puffed and splashed on all sides. The early-morning sun washing over their sleek bodies with the wake. By 8:30 it seemed that our timing had been perfect. By the end of our trip, sightings had become few and far between which just made it all the more special that we got to see so many. All in all, we must have seen close to 40 sightings though I’m sure many of them were the same few dolphins. I highly recommend this trip as a fantastic and surreal way to spend a morning, though just make sure you go early!
The only slight disappointment is that I would have liked to see a portion of the $9 going towards conservation to help save the highly endangered dolphins but after all, this is Cambodia and I expected nothing less than the surplus $8 per person that didn’t go on boat fuel to go straight into someones pocket. It seems to be a general theme here but that’s another can of worms entirely.
What do you think?