Irrawaddy Dolphins in Bang Pakong River

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The Irrawaddy Dolphin is one of the world’s most endangered dolphins although the exact number remaining in the wild today is not really known. Their preferred waterways are the coasts, estuaries and rivers throughout South East Asia and Northern Australia.

The Irrawaddy Dolphin is found

  • along the northern coasts of Australia
  • in the Mahakham River in Borneo
  • in Songkhla Lake in Southern Thailand
  • in the upper Gulf of Thailand
  • in the Mekong River in Laos & Cambodia
  • and in a few other scattered locations

Probably none of these populations have more than one
hundred individuals.

Irrawaddy Dolphins like the warm shallow coastal waters and sometimes they are found in rivers as far as 1,300 km inland from the sea.



  • Unlike other dolphins, the Irrawaddy dolphins have a high rounded forehead and no beak.
  • They are dark blue to dark gray with a pale ventral side.
  • The U-shaped blowhole is located to the left of the midline on the dorsal side and opens to the front, unlike other species.
  • They have a small, blunt, rounded triangular dorsal fin and large flippers.
  • Like other river dolphins the neck is highly flexible, which is likely to enable them to forage in shallow water.
  • They have narrow, pointed, peg-like teeth about 1 cm in length in both the upper and lower jaw.
  • They are just over 2m long at full maturity and an adult’s weight exceeds 130 kg.
  • Lifespan is about 30 years.

Irrawaddy Dolphins are shy and will not swim alongside boats or humans, and when scared can dive underwater for 12 minutes. They are slow to surface and rarely make any splash with their tail to let you know they are there. This reclusive behaviour makes it difficult for the untrained eye to count exactly how many dolphins are present.

Each November, at the end of the monsoon season, the murky waters in the estuary of the Bang Pakong River play host to the Irrawaddy dolphin.

In the Bang Pakong River in Thailand, they appear seasonally at the end of the monsoon rains in November, and stay until the end of February searching for food, a mate and to give birth to their calves. The dolphins follow the pla duk talae or eel catfish into the estuary and it is their main source of food for the next few months. They eat around eight kilograms of fish every day.

In the Bang Pakong River, the dolphins have a special way of eating catfish to avoid injury from the spiny catfish whiskers. One dolphin will seize the fish from the front, holding the fish’s head in the front of its mouth. A second dolphin will then start eating the fish from the tail end. They take it in turns doing this so that all can get their fill of fish. Catfish bobbing in the water, minus their body (pictured below), is a good sign that the dolphins are around.

Unfortunately, these dolphins are under threat from fisheries, getting tangled in fishing nets, pollution, food shortages, over fishing, soil erosion and a general degradation of the marine environment.

The Irrawaddy dolphins' main food is catfish, and the catfish feed on small shrimps, or koei in Thai. Over fishing of these has destroyed the food chain and is affecting the dolphins. Thanks to persuasion by the authorities, many fishermen on the Bang Pakong have agreed to stop using the phong phang or bag nets and 30 to 40 fishing boats have been modified so they can offer dolphin sightseeing tours.

When you go to see the dolphins you have a number of choices regarding the boat, but your choices are normally determined by the size of your group. The boat on the left takes 4-6 people. The one on the right, 10-12 people.

If you have a group of up to twenty then you can take the boat on the left. Groups up to 50 will be taken on the boat on the right, which comes complete with toilet and karaoke!

Big groups of up to one hundred are catered for with with this lovely boat which features ornately carved railings.

Responsible river cruise operators are playing a vital role in the future survival and conservation of dolphin populations as the boatmen have undergone special training conducted by the Tha Kham Municipality to ensure the safety and well-being of the dolphins.

All boats come fully equipped with life jackets for each person and you'll need to take a warm jacket because it's windy out in the estuary.

Dolphin spotting is difficult at any time, but the Irrawaddy Dolphin is particularly elusive, so try to go early in the morning when they are feeding. It makes it easier to spot them. Sometimes their tail splash helps to locate them.

Those of you who like photography will find this an especially challenging task as the Irrawaddy Dolphin appear very suddenly and disappear just as quickly. The photo below was the best from 120 photos taken during an early morning tour (12-11-07), despite the fact that we saw 30-40 dolphins around the boat. If you get better photos please email them and we'll include them here. Credit happily given.

The Bang Pakong River is a public waterway, but very view people come here. This was the only other boat we saw on our outing this morning.


Different days bring different water conditions and different guests on our tours. Last Friday (23-11-07) we took a group of Thai uni students on an overcast morning. Khun Pop took these pics and the benefit of his good camera skills are evident. Thanks for sending us the pics Pop.

Some dolphins are easily identifiable by their unique markings

Book your Irrawaddy Dolphins Trip with Bangkok Day Tours