Scientists at the Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of India have expressed fear that Gangetic river dolphins (Platanistagangetica) and gharials (Gavaialis gangeticus) in the Ganga could get infected by floating corpses in the river, presumed by many to be of those who died from the virus.
The alarm is compounded by the fact that Bihar and UP – where hundreds of corpses were found recently – is a major stretch of the Ganga where Gangetic dolphins and gharials and various other aquatic mammals are found. The 2,525-km-long Ganga is the only habitat of these two mammals. There are over 1,000 gharials and around 2,500-3,000 Gangetic dolphins in the river.
According to scientists, gharials and Gangetic dolphins are both vulnerable as they breathe through lungs unlike other smaller fishes which breathe through gills. Also, they are categorised as ‘critically endangered’ and ‘endangered’ respectively by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
K Sivakumar, senior scientist, WII, said, “Since lions are mammals and they were found infected, aquatic mammals like Gangetic dolphins and ghariyals are susceptible too. We are really worried.”
On whether the virus transmission can happen through water, he said, “We really don’t know enough about how the virus spreads, but since it is believed that it spreads through droplets, it cannot be ruled out that it may spread through water too.”