Inside Asia Tours: Vietnam, Cambodia & Laos

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Monday, 30th November 2015

Facts about the Irrawaddy dolphin

The Irrawaddy dolphin is a beautiful and vulnerable animal that can be found around the tropical waters of Burma, Cambodia, Vietnam and the Mekong River in Laos.The Indo-Pacific is home to a vast range of aquatic sea life, but spotting an Irrawaddy dolphin is a truly special occasion.

If you are holidaying in Southeast Asia then make sure you keep a weather eye for this mammal: to help you we've created a fact file, so you know exactly what to look out for.


Although it's in the name, the Irrawaddy dolphin looks more like a whale as it doesn't have a beak, which is a common feature among dolphins. It's closely related to the orca family but is very similar to a beluga whale, albeit slighter darker in colour.

The dolphin has a rounded skull with a very flexible neck, which causes visible creases behind its head. Irrawaddy dolphins are quite large creatures marking a weight of 12.3 kilos at birth and they can expand to a massive 200 kilos when they are fully grown.


This dolphin's feeding habits are based largely on the crustaceans and cephalopods that also make a home in the coastal waters of Southeast Asia. These dolphins often dive down into the water for nearly 18 minutes in search for food and have been known to spit in order to herd fish for feeding.

Unlike other dolphins, the Irrawaddy dolphin doesn't leap, instead skimming the water's surface and occasionally rolling over the water.


With regards to its community the Irrawaddy dolphin will usually travel and feed in small pods of between three and six. However, it hasn't been unknown for people to spot as many as 15 Irrawaddy dolphins travelling in one pod. Pods are also known to intermingle and communicate with each other using a series of clicks and buzzing sounds.

Although a sociable animal, there isn't much known about the mating of the Irrawaddy dolphin. It's thought to breed between April and June in the Mahakam River and will carry its babies for 14 months before birth!

Threats to the Irrawaddy dolphin

Although the Irrawaddy dolphin isn't considered an endangered species, it is vulnerable to certain threats because it lives closer to land than many other species of dolphins. Primary risks are collisions with boats and getting caught in fishing nets - often fishermen feel that Irrawaddy dolphins create competition for fishing and view them as a pest.

Environmental issues cause problems for Irrawaddy dolphins too as their habitat runs the risk of being taken over by the construction of dams. Similarly these creatures are vulnerable to global warming and climate changes as are many other species.

A bit of a myth

It's not certain exactly how far back the Irrawaddy dolphin dates to the waters of Southeast Asia but this lesser spotted creature is one of mystery. One of the areas to find the Irrawaddy dolphin is in the Mekong River and the people of Laos believe that the mammals are the reincarnation of people from there.

Related news stories:
Why has Laotian food not been widely exported to the rest of the world? (2nd April 2015)
Top tips for taking the Reunification Express (19th February 2015)
The wildlife of Laos (5th February 2015)
4 ways to keep active in Laos (14th January 2016)
Top places to include on your 2015 itinerary (30th December 2014)