Ganges River Platanista - Platanista gangetica
Also known as the blind river dolphin, Gangetic platanista, susu, bhulan, or South Asian river dolphin, this big-flippered, long-beaked, and sightless freshwater cetacean has about as much charm as a gharial with poked-out eyeballs - a far cry from its “charismatic” ocean-dwelling cousins.
But hey, at least the massive, curved, two-inch-long teeth don’t last forever! No, if the dolphin lives more than a few years (never a sure thing in the over-trafficked and heavily polluted Ganges and Indus rivers), those skewers are broken and ground into little pegs, only adding to their charm. Though the big teeth help to catch and hold fish and shrimp when the dolphin is young, if they make it beyond their first decade, they’re adept enough at catching prey that the little pegs are enough.
Note how big the melon on their foreheads is. Like all toothed whales, the susu uses echolocation to find its food, but unlike many of the others (such as oceanic dolphins), the susu lives its entire life in a very murky, dark environment. It finds mates (as they live most of their life alone, they don’t have a pod to find females in or with), avoids predators, and conducts its entire life via echolocation, as its eyes are only capable of distinguishing light from dark.
Despite their less-than-charming looks, the susu is an integral part of the ecosystem in both the Ganges and Indus riverways, and is endangered in all parts of its habitat. There are less than 4000 individuals left in the wild, and none in captivity. Hunting for “traditional medicine" (yeah, these guys are "aphrodisiacs". Go ahead, try to wrap your head around that) and poisoning from pollution due to factory runoff are still their primary threats.
Nevertheless, the reduction of runoff in the Indus in the past decade, and subsequent rise in its dolphin population proves that we can save these creatures - none of the three subpopulations are at a level where they’re safe, but all three can be salvaged if we just make a few changes. Not to mention, people use both of those rivers for water, bathing, and fishing. It really benefits everyone if we stop pouring chemical waste into them.
Older susu: “The Strange and Beautiful River Dolphins." Kate H, September 2011.
Young adult susu skull cast: Children’s Museum of Indianapolis via Wikimedia Commons
Susu illustration: Illustrations of Indian Zoology, Part 2. Major-General Hardwicke for John Edward Gray, 1833-1834.