Food for thought: On the road to Mandalay, the Ayeyarwaddy dolphins and the flying fish

“On the road to Mandalay,

Where the flyin’ fishes play,

An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China ‘crost the Bay!”

So wrote Kipling at the turn of the century of the wonders and enchantment of Burma and its city of Mandalay.

I first read of this poem while I was working on the Road to Mandalay riverine cruise ship back in 1996-7. But I have not read it properly and it is only now that I realized that he wrote “fishes”, which, as far as I know, is incorrect. Why? There is no need for it to be part of the rhyme. I am not good in English, and do not understand English poems and verse well, so will someone who knows please enlighten me about it?

I have never seen flying fish around Mandalay or in the Ayeyarwaddy elsewhere; only the Ayeyarwaddy dolphin and I wonder whether Kipling meant the Ayeyarwaddy dolphins or the real flying fish in Myanmar’s coastal waters, the KattPaLi PinLae / Andaman Sea, which I met in all the 3 times I have been there: the first when I was in high school after finishing the 8th Standard, when I went along with the YayKyaung LuNge on the trip to CoCo Kyun and MaLi Kyun (in the Myeik archipelago) after a training and touring camp in the SeikKyi Naval Academy; the second time on the m.v. Taunggyi in 1978 (I was newly married, it was 4 months earlier) together with a group of classmate friends, many who are now in the USA, on our trip to Dawei; finally, with the m.v. Than Lwin in 2007 April on the trip to the southeast.

It was only when I worked in the Road to Mandalay that I heard of Ayeyarwaddy dolphins. I had always thought that all dolphins live in the sea. There were sightings around the Sagaing bridge and once others saw a school of them, yet I did not see them; I am myopic and although I wore glasses, maybe my refraction was not up to 6/6 vision at the time. I saw the Ayeyarwaddy unexpectantly at the riverside at Mingun. I used to follow along on the Mingun tour and one day, while I was standing on the bank, I saw a couple of dolphins making a “jump”; it was actually a sighting of its back, I did not see their heads nor tails, and the dolphin did not make a real whole body jump into the air as I had understand dolphins do, and saw in photos and movies of the water circus dolphins who jumped high out of the water through a ring.

I read about the Ayeyarwaddy dolphins. They are fresh water dolphins and the dolphins in China and elsewhere in the South east asia are of the same species.

I also heard about the dolphins near Shwekyetyet; that one helped a particular father and son fishermen of ShweKyetYet village in their fishing. It drove fish towards their net, and only with them, not with others. Later I read that it is the habit of many dolphins. I saw on television of a group of Indian coastal fishermen waiting with nets on the beach. A school of dolphins drove a large school of fish ahead of them along the beach and as the fish passed the fishermen, they threw their nets in succession and a lot of fish were caught.

I also read about the friendship between a dolphin and a man near Elat, in the Red Sea.

From this behavior and their behavior I see with the circus dolphins, and I realized that as they are mammals and with their high intelligence, they form friendship with humans like dogs do.

Nowadays, the Ayeyarwaddy dolphins are being researched upon and protected.

Flying fish are aplenty far south when near the Myeik archipelago, and the first time I saw them I was on deck duty and they seem to be following us / the b.n.s. Mayu. We were in a school of flying fish that were going in the same direction. Whether it is coincendental or whether they have the habit of following a ship, I do not know. They jumped into the air, and then made several jumps by striking the surface with their tails and then dived back into the water.

I saw a dead flying fish the next morning. It had jumped onto the deck and became a fish out of water and died and picked up by one of the crew. I was surprised that it had a somewhat square body on cut section. They would be easily packed! Maybe it is not natural and became that way only after it had died from some circumstance I did not know about. The one I saw was about 18 inches long.


I remember the first time I heard about the flying fish, though I wasn’t as insane as the guy in the video below “This is why Evolution is awesome” towards the flying fish. it still was an organism to be amazed at. I want one. I don’t care what anyone says — I want one.

Flying fish

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Exocoetidae, is a family of marine fish in the order Beloniformes of class Actinopterygii. Fishes of this family are known as flying fish. They comprise about 64 species grouped in seven to nine genera

Distribution and description

Flying fish live in all of the oceans, particularly in warm tropical and subtropical waters. Their most striking feature is their pectoral fins,[1] which are unusually large, and enable the fish to hide and escape from predators[2] by leaping out of the water, taking short gliding flights through air just above the water’s surface. Their glides are typically around 50 metres (160 ft).[3]

Flying fish taking off

In order to glide upward out of the water, a flying fish moves its tail up to 70 times per second.[4] It then spreads its pectoral fins and tilts them slightly upward to provide lift.[1]

At the end of a glide, it folds its pectoral fins to reenter the sea or drops its tail into the water to push against the water to lift itself for another glide, possibly changing direction.[1][4]

The curved profile of the “wing” has an aerodynamic shape that is comparable to that of a bird wing.[5] The fish is able to increase its time in the air by flying straight into or at an angle to the direction of updrafts created by a combination of air and ocean currents.[1][4]

Genus Exocoetus has one pair of fins and a streamlined body to optimize for speed, while Cypselurus has a flattened body and two pairs of fins which maximizes its time in the air.

Irrawaddy dolphin

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Irrawaddy Dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris) is a euryhaline species of Oceanic dolphin found in discontinuous sub-populations near sea coasts and in estuaries and rivers in parts of the Bay of Bengal and Southeast Asia.

Size comparison with an average human

Etymology and taxonomic history

The Irrawaddy Dolphin was first described by Sir Richard Owen in 1866 based on a specimen found in 1852, in the harbour of Visakhapatnam on the east coast of India.[3] It is one of two species in its genus. It has sometimes been listed variously in a family containing just itself and in Monodontidae and in Delphinapteridae. There is now widespread agreement to list it in the Delphinidae family.

Genetically the Irrawaddy Dolphin is closely related to the Orca. The species name brevirostris comes from the Latin meaning short-beaked. In 2005, genetic analysis showed that the Australian Snubfin Dolphin found at the coast of northern Australia forms a second species in the Orcaella genus.

Overall grey to dark slate blue, paler underneath. No distinctive pattern. Dorsal fin small and rounded behind middle of back. Forehead high and rounded; beak lacking. Broad rounded flippers. The similar species that can be found in Borneo is the Finless Porpoise, Neophocaena phocaenoides, is similar and has no back fin: the Humpback Dolphin, Sausa chinensis, is larger, has longer beak and larger dorsal fin.[3]

The several common names for Orcaella brevirostris (Latin) include: English: Irrawaddy dolphin, Local Chilika dialect: Baslnyya Magar or Bhuasuni Magar (oil yielding dolphin), Oriya: Khem and Khera[3], French: Orcelle, Spanish: Delfín del Irrawaddy, German: Irrawadi Delphin, Burmese: Labai, Indonesia: Pesut, Malay: Lumbalumba, Khmer: ផ្សោត Ph’sout , Lao: Pha’ka and Filipino: Lampasut.[4] In Thai, one of its names is pía loma hooa baht, because its rounded head is thought to resemble the shape of a Buddhist monk’s bowl, a hooa baht.[5]

[edit] Description

Irrawaddy dolphins are similar to the Beluga in appearance, though most closely related to the Orca. They have a large melon and a blunt, rounded head, and the beak is indistinct. The dorsal fin, located about two-thirds posterior along the back, is short, blunt and triangular. The flippers are long and broad. It is lightly coloured all over, but slightly more white on the underside than the back. Adult weight exceeds 130 kg (287 lb) and length is 2.3 m (8 ft) m at full maturity. Maximum recorded length is 2.75 m (9 ft) of a male from Thailand.[5]


These dolphins are thought to reach sexual maturity at 7 to 9 yrs. In the Northern Hemisphere, mating is reported from December to June. Its gestation period is 14 months, giving birth to a single calf every 2 to 3 years. Length is about 1 m (3 ft) at birth. Birth weight is about 10 kg (22 lb). Weaning is after two years. Lifespan is about 30 years.

[edit] Behavior

Irrawaddy dolphins communicate with clicks, creaks and buzzes at a dominant frequency of about 60 kilohertz which is thought to be used for echolocation. Bony fish and fish eggs, cephalopods, and crustaceans are taken as food. Observations of captive animals indicate that food may be taken into the mouth by suction. Irrawaddy Dolphins sometimes spit streams of water, sometimes while spyhopping, during feeding, apparently to expel water ingested during fish capture or possibly to herd fish. Some Irrawaddy Dolphins kept in captivity have been trained to do spyhopping on command. The Irrawaddy Dolphin is a slow swimmer, but swimming speed of 20–25 km/hour was reported when dolphins were being chased in a boat.[6]

It surfaces in a rolling fashion and lifts its tail fluke clear of the water only for a deep dive. Deep dive times range from 70–150 seconds to 12min. When 277 group dives were timed (time of dis-appearance of last dolphin in group to emergence of first dolphinin the group) in Laos, mean duration was 115.3 s with a range of 19 s to 7.18 min.[5] They make only occasional low leaps and never bow-ride. Groups of fewer than 6 individuals are most common, but sometimes up to 15 dolphins are seen together. [6] [7]

Interspecific competition has been observed when Orcaella was forced inshore and excluded by more specialised dolphins. It is also reported that when captive Humpback Dolphins (Sonsa chinensis) and Irrawaddy Dolphins were held together, the Irrawaddy Dolphins were frequently chased and confined to a small portion of the tank by the dominant Humpbacks. In Chilika Lake, local fishers say that when Irrawaddy Dolphins and Bottlenose Dolphins meet in the outer channel, the former get frightened and are forced to return toward the lake.[3]

[edit] Habitat and sub-populations

Although sometimes called the Irrawaddy River Dolphin, it is not a true river dolphin but an oceanic dolphin that lives in brackish water near coasts, river mouths and in estuaries. It has established sub-populations in freshwater rivers, including the Ganges and the Mekong as well as the Irrawaddy River from which it takes its name. Its range extends from the Bay of Bengal to New Guinea and the Philippines.

It is often seen in estuaries and bays in Borneo Island. With sightings from Sandakan in Sabah, Malaysia, to most parts of Brunei and Sarawak, Malaysia. A specimen was collected at Mahakam River in East Kalimantan.[1]

No range-wide survey has been conducted for this vulnerable species, however it appears that the worldwide population is over 7,000, with over 90% occurring in Bangladesh. Populations outside Bangladesh and India are classified as critically endangered. Known sub-populations of Irrawaddy Dolphins are found in eight places, listed here in order of population, including conservation status.

Chilka Lake, Orissa, India, habitat of Irrawaddy Dolphins

  1. Bangladesh; 5,832 (VU) in coastal waters of the Bay of Bengal[8]
  2. and 451 (VU) in the brackish Sundarbans mangrove forest[9][10]
  3. India; 138 (VU) in the brackish water Chilka Lake[11]
  4. Laos and Cambodia; 66-86 (CR) in a 190 km (118.1 mi) freshwater stretch of the Mekong River[12]
  5. Indonesia; (CR), in a 420 km (261.0 mi) stretch of the freshwater Mahakam River
  6. Philippines; about 77 (CR) in the brackish inner Malampaya Sound
  7. Myanmar; about 58-72 (CR) in a 370 km (229.9 mi) freshwater stretch of the Ayeyarwady River
  8. Thailand: less than 50 (CR) in the brackish Songkhla Lake.[1]

[edit] Interaction with humans

Irrawaddy dolphins have a seemingly mutualistic relationship of co-operative fishing with traditional fishers. Fishers in India recall when they would call out to the dolphins, to drive fish into their nets. [13] In Myanmar, in the upper reaches of the Ayeyawady River, Irrawaddy dolphins drive fish towards fishers using cast nets in response to acoustic signals from them. In return, the Dolphins are rewarded with some of the fishers’ by-catch.[14] Historically, Irrawaddy River fishers claimed that particular dolphins were associated with individual fishing villages and chased fish into their nets. A 1879 report indicates 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 plaintiffs dolphin was claimed to have helped fill.[5]


Fishers with fishnets in Bangladesh

Irrawaddy Dolphins are more susceptible to human conflict than most other dolphins who live farther out in the ocean. Drowning in gillnets is the main threat to Irrawaddy dolphins throughout their range. The majority of reported dolphin deaths in all subpopulations is due to accidental capture and drowning in gillnets and dragnets, and in the Philippines, bottom-set crabnets. In Myanmar, electrofishing and gold mining are also a serious and continuing threat. Though most fishers are sympathetic to the dolphins plight, it is difficult for them to abandon their traditional means of livelihood.[1]

In several Asian countries, Irrawaddys have been captured and trained to perform in public aquariums. The charismatic appearance and unique behaviors of Irrawaddy dolphins, including spitting water, spyhopping and fluke-slapping, make them very popular for shows in dolphinariums. The commercial motivation for using this dolphin species is high because it can live in freshwater tanks and the high cost of marine aquarium systems is avoided. The region within and nearby the species’ range has developed economically and theme parks, casinos and other entertainment venues that include dolphin shows has increased. In 2002 there were more than 80 dolphinariums in at least nine Asian countries[15]

Collateral deaths of dolphins due to blast fishing were once common in Vietnam and Thailand. In the past, the most direct threat was the killing of Irrawaddys for their oil.

The IUCN lists five of the seven subpopulations as critically endangered, primarily due to drowning in fish nets.[1] For example, the Malampaya population was first discovered and described in 1986, at the time consisting of 77 individuals. Due to anthropogenic activities, this number dwindled to 47 dolphins in 2007.[16]

[edit] Conservation

Entanglement in fishnets and degradation of habitats are the primary threats to Irrawaddy Dolphins. Multiple conservation efforts are being made at international and national levels to alleviate these threats.


In 2005, the Department of Fisheries established a protected area for Irrawaddy dolphins in a 74 km (46 mi)-km segment of the Ayeyarwady River between Mingun and Kyaukmyaung. Protective measures in the area include mandatory release of entangled dolphins, prohibition of the catching or killing of dolphins and trade in whole or parts of them and the prohibition of electro-fishing and gill nets more than 300 feet (91 m) long, or spaced less than 600 feet (180 m). apart.[4] Mercury poisoning and habitat loss from gold mining dregding operations in the river have been eliminated[28]

After I posted this, a mentor of mine, Sayar Thane Oke Kyaw-Myint wrote to me:

Thane Oke Kyaw-Myint Ko Nyi Win, Kipling had never visited Burma proper let alone Mandalay: the ship that he was traveling passed near moulmien. So you’re right there couldn’t be any flying fish near Mandalay

Nyi Win thanks Sayar, for the information
so the flying fish “on the road to Mandalay” that Kipling wrote would be the ones in our coastal sea along the Tenesserim / ThaNinTharYi KannYoeTann ကမ္း႐ိုးတန္း
“Flying fish live in all of the oceans, partic…ularly in warm tropical and subtropical waters.”, so he actually meant the flying fish, not the Ayeyarwaddy dolphins

and later Sayar wrote:

Thane Oke Kyaw-Myint He was really an amazing writer: although he wrote so well about India, his stay in India was just a few years only, after he finished high school in England. Yet he took back with him such vivid memories of the country and the people that …he could write so many stories about India. If you can find them , please read :Stalky and Co, which was semi-autobiographical. The short story “Baa baa Black Sheep” was himself. Please also read Kim which was a very excellent account about “the Great Game’ i..e intrigues by the British but what i like about it was the sadhu trying to find enlightenment through his study of the Cycle of Life which i assumed must be the “Padiissa Samupada” cycle. the two Jungle Books and Mowgli were based on a actual young boy brought up by wolves.

You can download free all his books from Project Gutenberg:

Later, another mentor, Prof. Maung Maung Nyo wrote to me:

Maung Nyo Dear Nyi Win, It’s a metaphor. Have you ever seen aflying man, fling tiger, flying horse etc. All metaphors. We have ‘lu Pyan Daw Paddamya Tonic, Kya Pyan ma Kaut Cigars, Myin Pyan Longyi etc. It’s a beautiful poem.

Nyi Win

Sayargyi, thanks for enlightening me about “metaphor”. Although I have seen the word, I do not understand it and has never tried to.
My parents had a book by Kipling and when I was young, I read it, but could not appreciate it. Maybe I was n…ot mature at the time.
I appreciated Wuthering Heights, Rebecca, and Gone with the Wind, although it was a few years later and I still have not tried Kipling again.
The same too with ThetKaTho Phone Naing’s books which were famous. I read some of them but could not appreciate the ones I read. I prefer Zawana, Thein Pe Myint, ThetKaTho Khin Maung Aye, Maung TharRa, Myat Htan, Nu Nu Yi Innwa, etc., but as with Kipling’s book, I never tried ThetKaTho Phone Naing’s books after the initial exposure.
I understand that good literature never gets the acclaim without it being good. Maybe I was too young when I tried them, yet, my classmate friends appreciated ThetKaTho Phone Naing’s books at the time.

Maung Nyo Thank you. What you read are pure prose with direct meaning. Tekkatho Phone Naing, his model Bhamo Tin Aung, Dagon Taryar , Kyi Aye and early Maung Tha Ya wrote in poetic prose with many metaphors and similes. Think of Wutlitsalit Lanmagyi as the naked road. It means a desrted road. Lay nu aye as the cold yound tender breeze. How can a breeze or wind be tender or hard, yound or old? Just metaphors. Thnak you.

Nyi Win

Thanks again Sayargyi

it is true that one is never too old to learn

and I have learned something about literature from you today

there are some authors whose writings I do not understand: DeMawHso ဒီေမာဆိုး (I had actually met him here in Mann oil field. He is a MOGE Drilling engineer U Than Aung, and worked with us about 12 years ago), Linn Hsay Tit လင္းေဆး (1) [he is Dr. Than Htut, 1 or 2 years my senior, IM-1 ’74 or ’75 batch, and I knew him during my undergraduate days and he always took part in the graduation dinner plays during his medical student days), and several others.

U Than Aung and ko Than Htut knew each other and they write in the same style; the only problem is that I do not get what they mean_their message.


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5 Responses to “Food for thought: On the road to Mandalay, the Ayeyarwaddy dolphins and the flying fish”

  1. Harry Hpone Thant Says:

    To be quite modest I re-discovered these dolphins around 1996. I invited the Whale and Dolphins Conservation Society(WDCS) of UK to start the research and also started the dolphin watching trips for eco tourists. At that time nobody knew about them WDCS and I organized a seminar in Yangon and also distributed dolphin conservation posters along the Ayeyarwady river. Then the scientist from WDCS went to work for WCS(Wildlife Conservation Society) of US and he brought in the Yangon WCS office and the govt Fisheries Dept into the picture. Now they are acting as if they were the initiators. I stand fallen,forgotten and forlorn.
    Please follow the link

  2. Harry Hpone Thant Says:

    Also some of the facts above are not correct. Actually it was a British naturalist, Richard Anderson, who took two specimens to UK for anlysis and he gave the name Irrwaddy Dolphins. Why must the dolphins have the name “Irrawaddy” if they are found in India? The Indian Ganges dolphins is a totally different genus, as well asthe Chinese Boto. The dolphins in India are called Ganges dolphins.
    The Ayeyarwady dolphins around Mingun also do not live in brackish water. They are fresh water dolphins and can be found in the Chindwin also.
    They were mentioned in the 1st century Chinese Tang dynasty era documents as “river pigs”.

  3. brenda vanessa Says:

    no se por que exhiben la información que estoy por mostrar en Internet la verdad por q solo dan a los pescadores o personas que tratan de privar de su libertad a estos animales armas para saber donde están y poder casarlos no se por q explíquenme
    }Aunque tenemos buenas noticias para el delfín del río Irrawaddy, delfín
    Irrawaddy o delfín beluga (Orcaella brevirostris) una de las especies más raras en el mundo de delfines ya que
    por suerte para los delfines y grandes noticias para quienes nos alegramos de estos hallazgos, se han descubierto
    en gran número en las selvas inundadas de Bangladesh. Conservacionistas pensaron que los Irrawaddy andaban
    en los números de los cientos, pero encontraron, más o menos, 6000 de ellos en un bosque de manglares en
    Sundarban y las aguas limítrofes de la bahía de Bengal.

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