A fluke of nature

Photo: © Soumyajit Nandy / Sanctuary Photolibrary

BITTU SAHGAL

An Irrawady dolphin vanishes into the food-rich, mud-brown waters of the Sundarbans Tiger Reserve and a whole world of opportunity, hidden from human eyes, opens up a micro-moment later. Using sophisticated sonography, the aquatic mammal sweeps its head expertly left to right to stitch together an image of its underwater larder, principally shoals of fish.

The number of these rare dolphins was once presumed to hover around 500 in the Sundarbans. Recently a massive, hitherto unknown, population of 6,000 dolphins was discovered in Bangladesh! Who knows what other secrets lie hidden in this mangrove Horn of Cornucopia, which has nurtured life forms, large and small, for countless eons.

One way or the other, over 30 million humans living in Bangladesh and West Bengal’s 24 Parganas South are dependent on the same larder. But, unlike dolphins, sharks, crocodiles, turtles and tigers, humans seem determined to damage, exhaust or otherwise extinguish this food source. It is this ability to lay waste to nature’s once inexhaustible resources that differentiates us from every other living creature on planet Earth… not our remarkable ability to compute or abstract or articulate using poetry, science or art.

We know, of course, that the dolphin’s fluke serves the very vital function of propelling these marine mammals forward (they all once lived on land and then returned to the sea!). No one yet knows however, what function humans perform per se? We will probably go to our graves wondering what fluke of nature gifted Homo sapiens the power of life and death over the rest of nature… a power we are exercising in the most irresponsible way possible.

First appeared in Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XXXV No. 12, April 2016.

Bittu Sahgal

Bittu Sahgal

Editor at Sanctuary Asia
Bittu Sahgal is the Editor of Sanctuary Asia, India's premier wildlife and ecology magazine.
Bittu Sahgal

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Bittu Sahgal

Bittu Sahgal is the Editor of Sanctuary Asia, India's premier wildlife and ecology magazine.