Indus Estuary and Creeks IMMA

Size in Square Kilometres

2 868 km2

Qualifying Species and Criteria

Indian Ocean humpback dolphin – Sousa plumbea

Criterion A; B (1)

Indo-Pacific finless porpoise – Neophocaena phocaenoides

Criterion A; B (1)

Marine Mammal Diversity 

Neophocaena phocaenoides, Sousa plumbea, Tursiops aduncus


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The Indus Estuary and Creeks IMMA comprises an elaborate system of creeks through which the 3,000km-long Indus river disperses and discharges into the Arabian Sea. The lower reaches of these creeks form mangrove channels that extend beyond Pakistan’s border to the Mandvi harbour on the Indian coast. The area is inhabited by Endangered Indian Ocean humpback dolphins (Sousa plumbea) as well as Vulnerable Indo-Pacific finless porpoises (Neophocaena phocaenoides). Surveys conducted between 2005 and 2009 indicate that humpback dolphins are found in the upper, middle and lower sections of creeks in Pakistan, as well as along creek mouths extending to Jhakau and Mandvi Harbour, India. There is evidence that humpback dolphins are feeding and calving in the area. Information about finless porpoises in the area is limited to opportunistic reports or stranding records. Both species are threatened by accidental entanglements in fishing gear, risk of vessel strikes, habitat degradation, and ambient underwater noise and pollution.

Description of Qualifying Criteria

Criterion A – Species or Population Vulnerability

The Indian Ocean humpback dolphin (Sousa plumbea) is endangered (EN) and the Indo-Pacific finless porpoise (Neophocaena phocaenoides) is vulnerable (VU). The Indian Ocean humpback dolphin and the Indo-Pacific finless porpoise are obligate nearshore inhabitants and ecologically constrained to a narrow coastal strip, and therefore these species are facing severe threats to their conservation in the Indus estuary, creeks to Mandvi harbour, due to negative impacts from accelerated coastal development and associated human pressure. Known and suspected threats include accidental entanglements in fishing gear, habitat degradation, pollution, probable competition for food due to widespread use of non-selective fishing gears (such as gillnets) and increasing vessel traffic with associated noise pollution and risk of boat strikes (Iqbal, 2014; Kiani, 2014). Coastal areas in close proximity to industries, port installations (e.g. Port Qasim, Mandvi harbour) and major human settlements are of highest concern. Both these species, however, are legally protected in both India and Pakistan. Along the entire Indus estuary, creeks to Mandvi harbour, entanglement in fishing nets appears to be the principal threat to the two species of cetaceans. The impact is most severe during peak fishing season, i.e., the northeast monsoon (from November to February). Fisheries in the area are generally open access, which resulted in overcapacity of the fishing fleet. Use of gillnets of different types is very common in coastal as well as offshore waters, with high risk for cetacean entanglements. Industrial and domestic sewage pollution in coastal waters and tidal creeks is a major concern specifically around the populous and rapidly expanding industrial city of Karachi, on the northwestern most part of the delta, as well as industrial activities in Jahku and Mandvi Harbour area. In the south-eastern part, major pollution sources include pesticides like organochlorines and domestic water flushed into the Indus River from inland areas and from other population centres in the area (Kiani and Waerebeek, 2015). Loss of habitat (mangrove forest) due to land reclamation for development projects, deforestation and camel grazing are considered to be important threats to the population of two cetacean species. Mangrove deforestation results in the destruction of vital nursery grounds of small fish and perhaps other neritic species that are prey to both cetaceans occurring in the area (Kiani, 2014).

Criterion B: Distribution and Abundance

Sub-criterion B1: Small and Resident Populations 

The Indus estuarine area and associated creeks extending to Mandvi harbour are known for populations of humpback dolphins and finless porpoises regularly occurring in the area; these, if subjected to a single large scale event, could significantly alter the long term survival of the species. In the Indus River Delta, group sizes varied considerably from 1 to 35 animals (Kiani, 2014) whereas 27.6% typically consisted of large solitary animals, probably mostly adult males. Overall, groups of 1–10 animals made up 91% of total sightings. Generally in the bigger groups, some subgroups stayed close to each other and merged occasionally while chasing prey and feeding. Group composition of Indo-Pacific finless porpoise in the Indus estuary, creek was highly variable, i.e., only adults, only juveniles, mixed adults and juveniles, mother and calf pairs and undetermined.

Supporting Information

Ahmad, E., 1998. ‘The Root Causes of Biodiversity Loss in the Indus Delta’. WWF-Pakistan with Financial Support of DANIDA, DGIS, BMZ, GEF and WWF-Sweden.

Gore, M.A., Kinai, M.S., Ahmad, E., Hussain, B., Ormond, R.F., Siddiqui, P.J.A., Waqas, U. and Culloch, R. 2012. ‘Occurrence of whales and dolphins in Pakistan with reference to fishers’ knowledge and impacts’. Journal of Cetacean Research and Management 12: 235–247. 

Iqbal, P., 2014. ‘Distribution and Diversity of Organisms along Pakistan Coast’. PhD thesis, Karachi: University of Karachi.

Kiani, M.S., 2014. ‘Studies on Marine Cetaceans in Coastal Waters of Pakistan’. PhD thesis, Karachi: University of Karachi.

Kiani, M.S., and van Waerebeek,  K. 2015. ‘A review of the status of the Indian Ocean humpback dolphin (Sousa plumbea) in Pakistan’. In: T.A. Jefferson and B.E. Curry (eds) Advances in Marine Biology, Vol. 72, pp. 201-228.Oxford: Academic Press.

Kukadia, D., Gadhavi, M.K., Gokulakannan, N., Gopi, G.V., Talukdar, G. and Sivakumar K. 2016. ‘A recent record of the Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphin Sousa chinensis (Osbeck, 1765), (Mammalia: Cetartiodactyla: Delphinidae) from the western shores of Kachchh, Gujarat, India’. Journal of Threatened Taxa 8: 9024–9026.  (

Pilleri, G. and Pilleri, O. 1979. ‘Observations on the dolphins in the Indus Delta (Sousa plumbea and Neophocaena phocaenoides) in winter 1978–1979’. Investigations on Cetacea 10:129–135.

Ross, G.J.B., Heinsohn, G.E. and Cockcroft, V.G. 1994. ‘Humpback dolphins Sousa chinensis (Osbeck, 1765), Sousa plumbea (G. Cuvier, 1829) and Sousa teuszii (Ku¨kenthal, 1892). In: S.H.Ridgway and R. Harrison (eds.), Handbook of Marine Mammals. The First Book of Dolphins, vol. 5. pp. 23–42. London: Academic Press.

Shah, A.A., Kawasaki, I. and Kamaruzaman, J. 2007. ‘Degradation of Indus Delta mangroves in Pakistan’. International Journal of Geology 1: 27.

Siddiqui, P.J.A., Farooq, S., Shafique, S., Burhan, Z.N. and Farooqi, Z. 2008. ‘Conservation and management of biodiversity in Pakistan through the establishment of marine protected areas’. Ocean and Coastal Management 51: 377–382.

Sutaria, D., Panicker, D., Jog, K., Sule, M., Muralidharan, R., and Bopardikar, I. 2015. ‘Humpback dolphins (Genus Sousa) in India: an overview of status and conservation issues. In: T.A. Jefferson and B.E. Curry (eds) Advances in Marine Biology, Vol. 72, pp. 229-256.Oxford: Academic Press.

Sule, M., Bopardikar, I., Jog K., Jamalabad, A., Panicker, D., Tregenza, N. and Sutaria, D. 2017. A review of Neophocaena phocaenoides records from India, with a special focus on the population in Sindhudurg, Maharashtra. The IWC Sub-Committee (SC/67A/SM/09).


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