Up and close with the Irrawaddy dolphins

Canoeing at the Chilika Lake

Tourism

January 2, 2018

/ By Arachika Kapoor / Puri, Odisha



Chilika Lake in Odisha houses a rich variety of birds and grasslands that makes this lagoon a top-notch tourist destination in the Puri district. Though the lake is known for bird watching, its biggest draw lies in Irrawaddy and bottlenose dolphins that migrate here during winters.

As we set our foot on the blue wooden boat at the shore of Chilika Lake in Puri district of Odisha, all we could think about was spotting the Irrawaddy and bottlenose dolphins – for which the lake is frequented by tourists.

Flowing into the Bay of Bengal, Chilika Lake is the largest saline water lagoon in India. As we started sailing into the basin, our oarsman helped us spot some waterfowls, which was enough to excite us for what lay ahead.

“During the months from January to March, a lot many species of migratory birds come to the lake,” he said. The lake is noted for thousands of migratory birds that flock here during winters. Birds including grey-legged geese, herons, cranes and pink flamingos migrate from as far as the Caspian Sea, Lake Baikal, Aral Sea, other parts of Russia, and central and southeast Asia, during winter months.

We sailed further to join other people in their boats who were waiting for the dolphins to put up a show. Chilika is home to the only known population of Irrawaddy dolphins in India, which are classified as vulnerable in five of the six other places they are known to live in.

 

“For a family holiday, Chilika is an easy get away from Bhubaneshwar, plus the weather during winters is nice here. Dolphins are definitely the highlight here but also the sea food. We get the freshest produce that is available, so it is great,” said Anushka, a fashion designer from Bhubaneshwar.

Along with the Irrawaddy dolphins, our oarsman helped us spot some bottlenose dolphins, which also migrate into the lagoon from the sea. According to the fishermen, when Irrawaddy dolphins and bottlenose dolphins meet in the outer channel, the Irrawaddy dolphins get frightened and are forced to return towards the lake.

Dolphin tourism provides an important alternative source of income for many local residents, whose living is otherwise sustained by the large fishery resources in the lake.

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