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Our oceans, lakes and rivers are home to all kinds of weird and wonderful wildlife, but among all the widely-loved sea turtles, octopuses and blue whales, there's also a little-known creature swimming around that may just be the most adorable animal you've never heard of.
The Irrawaddy dolphin is found in coastal areas in South and Southeast Asia, and in several rivers - the Ayeyarwady in Myanmar, the Mahakam in Indonesian Borneo and the Mekong, which flows through several countries including China, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.
Its rounded forehead and short beak give it an almost cartoon-like appearance, with its curved mouth giving the illusion that it is smiling.
According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Irrawaddy dolphins have 12-19 small teeth on each side of both jaws, measuring on average between 198 and 440 pounds in weight and between 5.9ft and 9ft in length.
Sadly, the species is listed as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) red list, with WWF saying they are primarily threatened by bycatch - the accidentally capture of aquatic animals in fishing fear.
Some populations are even listed as critically endangered, including those found along the Mekong River.
"The protection of the Irrawaddy dolphin is crucial for the overall health of the Mekong River - home to an estimated 1,100 species of fish," WWF says.
"The Irrawaddy dolphin is also regarded as a sacred animal by both Khmer and Lao people, and is an important source of income and jobs for communities involved in dolphin-watching ecotourism."
Thankfully, in October last year, WWF reported that numbers of the critically endangered Mekong River dolphins was 'stable'.
A press release said the Cambodian Government's Fisheries Administration and WWF confirmed there are now a total of 89 Irrawaddy dolphins in the area, which is a slight decline from the estimate of 92 in 2018, but was regarded as good news as it showed 'the population has stabilized in recent years after decades of precipitous decline'.
Mr. Seng Teak, WWF Country Director, commented: "Although the survey confirmed that number of river dolphins in Cambodia has stabilized, the population size is still small, so stronger conservation action is urgently needed."
While Irrawaddy dolphins are fully protected under Cambodia's Fisheries Law, they continue to face great danger from gill nets, the development of upstream dams, overfishing and illegal fishing practices like electrofishing.
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