Monday, May 17, 2010

Dolphins and giant mangrove forests

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Today I arrived in the Sudarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest and home to (among many other things) tigers, barking deer (apparently they sound just like dogs), king cobras, and Ganges River dolphins. Along with Elisabeth—a member of Wildlife Conservation Society’s field staff—our translator Shaheen, and a crew of five, I will be spending the next five days living on a boat, the MV Chhuti, while teaching a creative writing workshop focused on the Ganges River dolphin in the village of Chaddpai.

At first glance, the Ganges River dolphin looks like the bottlenose dolphins most of us would recognize. However, the Ganges River dolphin is a little more eccentric. First of all, it is a freshwater dolphin and lives in rivers, not the open ocean. Much more interesting is that the Ganges River dolphin is nearly blind and, like bats, navigates and hunts via echolocation (a number of enormous fruit bats also happen to call this region home). On top of that, it swims on its side for reasons not entirely understood, but probably related to the most effective use of its echolocation.

Tomorrow I will begin classes with the students in Chandpai, a small village whose residents rely primarily on harvesting tiny shrimp larvae from the river to survive. Everyone here pulls blue nets through the water all day to catch the larvae, which they sell to shrimp farms. Shrimp is Bangladesh’s second biggest export, after

The mud and thatch homes in Chadpai are built right on the edge of steep embankments next to a large and fast river. It is easy to see why Bangladesh suffers so much when struck by cyclones.

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