I was born in a crossfire hurricane,
In a river for a house in the pouring-driving rain
That’s how the Rolling Stones – I bet there’s not a human alive over a certain age who hasn’t heard of THEM! – start their song Jumping Jack Flash. But rain never bothered me because I really was born in a river! Pouring and driving rain is just what I like. Yes, that’s right, I was born in a river – the lower Mekong River in southern Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam – you humans called it southern French Indochina for a while before I was born, before you mucked up my home with your endless wars against one another and against my environment. Especially devastating was the American bombing, which sharply reduced our population. Those bombers probably killed more dolphins than ‘Vietcong.’
Well, my name is Joe and I’m an Irrawaddy dolphin. I bet you didn’t see that coming! You humans probably named me after the Ayeyarwady River, presumably the river you first found us in.
Look, I’m appealing to you humans simply because it’s YOU, collectively, who are ruining my life and the lives of my family and my dearest friends! You humans and your shenanigans are the cause of most of our troubles.
Some of you know that we dolphins have really big brains despite being what you human animals call animals. You humans are members of the same biological Phylum, Class, Order, Family, and Genus as us. We are social animals too! I know that you have nothing personal against us, but sometimes it sure is difficult for us to understand why it is that whenever you humans are around things go wrong for us.
You humans seem to like to ‘poop in our pond,’ so to speak! You certainly do not seem very concerned, at least not many of you. Before you humans showed up recently, we were hanging out at our favorite spots throughout the lower Mekong River south of the Khone Falls, including Tonie Sap Great Lake and major tributaries such as the Sekong.
We Irrawaddy dolphins used to like to visit others of our species and sub-species up and down the length of our river. You call it the Mekong — we just called it Home Sweet Home. But now, ALL because of YOU and the dirty things you do to us, we are confined to only 190 kilometers of the river – and it ain’t the best part neither!
We too are social animals. We like to hang out in groups of 2 or 3, sometimes as many as 25, but our real preference is for a group of half a dozen – enough to help one another without a lot of bickering. We ain’t perfect either, but WE try!
It’s kinda cool that many Laotians and Cambodians believe that we are reincarnations of their ancestors. It could be because some of us have saved some of them from drowning or from crocodile attacks. Crocks are brutes, all of them, and although some of you humans are too it is not apparent to us which of you are and which are not. So we make no distinction and help you if we can.
Some of you humans seem to want to ignore the fact that we even help you out from time to time with your fishing enterprises – true, only when there is benefit for all concerned. When you bang on the hulls of your boats with sticks we often pay heed and try to drive fish into the area where you throw your cast-nets, though we do expect you to toss a few stunned ‘trash fish’ – of no commercial value to you – back into the water as a tasty little snack for us and a well-deserved reward for our labors.
But it seems to us that you humans are consumed with squabbling to get more, more, more all of the time. A report from 1879 has come to our attention (don’t ask how – that is something I can’t talk about) that ‘legal claims were frequently brought into native courts by fishers to recover a share of the fish from the nets of a rival fisher which the plaintiff’s dolphin was claimed to have helped fill’ (P. Stacy and P.W. Arnold, ‘Orcaella brevirostris’ (PDF), Mammalian Species, 1999—2005). One fisher human refers to a fellow fisher human as a ‘rival’ and claims one of my relatives as his private property! Astonishing impudence! Disgusting! This property system of yours stinks. Whew!
When you humans realized that many of my relatives were being drowned in fisher humans’ gill-nets and drag-nets with large mesh size, you made their use illegal. Almost three quarters (74%) of dolphin deaths were attributed to this netting practice. So some of you humans then decided to use high-voltage cables, strung through the water in our neighborhood, to stun or kill as many fish as possible. Never mind that they also killed some of us!
Being drowned in your nets was bad enough, but at least it happened only to those who accidentally swam into the nets. The high-voltage electrical charge was indiscriminate. We had only to be in the vicinity to get electrocuted. True, its range was limited – but still wider than a net. And many of the corpses drifted away in the river current, undetected and uncollected.
And then some of you humans started to use a simpler, more direct, and much cheaper method (cost appears to be very important to many of you, perhaps because it is related to gain or profit). Some of you just lit the fuse on a stick of dynamite and tossed it right into our front yard. BANG! – and plenty of dead fish floated to the surface, along with many of my friends and relatives! This was even more indiscriminate than the electrical charge, because it covered a wider area of the river. The shock waves from the explosions killed mainly by damaging our internal organs and traumatizing our brains. You must surely know that we have really LARGE, sophisticated, and sensitive brains.
Although if you kill too many of us what will happen to your tourist trade? Dolphin-watching tourism began in 1994 and has brought direct financial benefit to all local human communities in our areas of Laos and Cambodia. The number of paying tourists in 2008 was 3,480. That number more than doubled to 7,200 tourists in 2011.
And now – the damned dam!
The Laotian government wants to build a dam across our river to generate electricity so that more of you humans can move nearer to our ancestral home and still get a monthly electricity bill. It ain’t working out too well for us just with those of you who are here right now. It surely ain’t gonna get any better for us with even more of you living nearby!
You must surely know that there is a terrible ecological price to be paid for disrupting and excavating primordial land! Or do you?
The official name of the dam is the Don Sahong Hydropower Project. The Laotian government knows full well that we are a sacred species in both Laos and Cambodia. The old tales in both countries tell of the part we played in human ancestry. I know that it is not all of you humans who want to hurt us, so the government should be removed for ignoring you and your traditions! The government always seems to ignore the will of the people. Why do you put up with it? According to your own traditions, some of us may be your great great-great-grandparents! So stop screwing us over and letting us get screwed over by the impersonal ‘others’ of the government!
Consider the environmental side of this question. Hey, fellow dolphins, look at me – a dolphin taking humans to ‘school’! I’m not erudite, you know. We dolphins aren’t fish: we don’t swim in ‘schools’! We swim in herds. But on with the lesson!
When you humans disturb the ecosystem by building your dam a myriad of consequences will ensue. The run-off of water will be altered. Oxygen-producing, carbon-dioxide-absorbing trees, plants, and grasses will be affected for the worse. The dam itself will divert the flow of the river and change the natural patterns of river bank erosion. It will also change the depth of the river at many locations. There will be plenty of other unexpected changes to the ecosystem and biosphere.
It doesn’t matter whether or not you believe in global heating. You do not have to believe in something for it to end up killing you. This planet that is home to both dolphins and humans could become uninhabitable for humans, for dolphins, for all sentient tellurians! Are you going to allow your governments to orchestrate our common funeral?
There are many safer and cleaner ways to generate electrical power: photoelectric solar panels, solar mirrors, ocean tidal energy capture systems, windmills, hydrogen-burning systems that produce only water as a by-product. And many more are under development in your laboratories.
The cement used in building this one hydropower project will release tons and tons of greenhouse gases into the already damaged atmosphere. Westerners consider Laos and Cambodia underdeveloped countries, so they discount your ability to come up with your own solutions to problems created not by you but by the supposedly enlightened Westerners. So why listen to them now? Are THEY not the culprits?
It must be our object to get the money out of this damned dam. The way to do that is to show that the rising cost of mitigating the damage it does will eventually render the dam unprofitable and unsustainable. Over the course of its operational life it will cost more than it is worth. And we Irrawaddy dolphins forewarn you of what lies ahead for you too.
Show us Irrawaddy dolphins that you humans are not carrying around those large brains you have in your skulls as mere ornaments. Show us how good they are for making wise decisions about vital issues. ‘Impossible,’ you say? ‘Impossible’ is NOT a fact — it is an opinion!
There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part. You can’t even passively take part. And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop (Mario Radio).
Enough is enough!