TRACKING AN ANIMAL’S DEMISE
Braulik used a second grant in 2011 to teach Pakistani scientists to take over her research on a blind dolphin species that lives only in the Indus River. Scientists knew that the dolphins’ numbers had declined since the 1870s, when their range stretched from the Himalayas to the Indian Ocean, 2,000 miles downstream. Now they are split into six populations by dams and limited to 20 percent of their former habitat, making it tough to keep track of them. These animals, which can see only light and dark, went blind over the generations because vision was not needed in the river’s muddy depths. They have long snouts, pinhole eyes and thin, spiky teeth. Organizers of the Asian Games rejected a request by conservationists to use a similar, now-extinct South Asian river dolphin as its mascot, because the dolphin was so unappealing. Braulik acknowledges that these dolphins look different from the cameraready ones at Seaworld. But “they are the coolest creatures,” she said. Braulik had twice led expeditions for Pakistani researchers down the Indus in wooden rowboats to count the dolphins. For a third trip, in 2011, a $6,000 aquarium grant allowed her to train the local researchers in complex survey methods and analysis. Now, two groups of local scientists have led the work. “They really don’t need me anymore,” she said.