This Republic Day, let's honour our nation's underwater life by meeting some of the most exciting aquatic animals that roam our freshwaters and oceans!
The land of diversity, India, is home to over 2,000 species of fish, 140 species of amphibians, and around 90 species of reptiles. However, many of these wonderful animals remain a mystery to most of us. This Republic Day, let’s bring India’s underrated aquatic wildlife to the limelight. From the depths of the ocean to the shallows of the rivers and lakes, India's water bodies are teeming with unique and fascinating creatures you can only dream of! Let’s get to know some of them!
Ganges River Dolphin
Most people think dolphins are exclusive to the ocean, but did you know that India is home to a unique group of river dolphins in the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna river system? Also known as ‘Susu’, the Ganges River Dolphin is India's National aquatic animal! Born blind, these dolphins use echolocation to navigate their surroundings. Interestingly, this group of river dolphins has been around for almost 20 million years and was once the dominant group of dolphins on the ENTIRE planet. Today, they are an endangered species with an estimated population of only around 2,000.
If you thought river monsters were works of fiction, only existing in folktales and urban legends — here’s a reality check! Meet the Goonch Catfish, a man-eating river monster known as the Great Devil Catfish. With razor-sharp teeth, large eyeballs, and a 20 feet-long body, this species of catfish is gigantic and terrifying. They are popular in the Great Kali river of India and are even responsible for the Kali River goonch attacks that occurred between 1998 and 2007.
Weighing about 400 pounds, the Napoleon wrasse or the humpback wrasse is one of the largest residents of the coral reef edge of the Indo-Pacific region. Despite being so big, this fish is a gentle giant and has an incredibly docile demeanour. One of the most fascinating things about the Napoleon wrasse is that it is a Protogynous hermaphrodite — it changes its sex from female to male as it grows older and larger.
The largest fish in the sea, Whale Sharks, can grow up to 40 feet in length and weigh up to 20 tons. Although sightings are incredibly rare, these fish can be found in the Manta Point in Lakshadweep, Andamans, and Pondicherry. This species is protected by the Indian Government and the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
The Gollum Snakeheaad was only recently discovered in India in the Western Ghats in 2019. The species are known as “living fossils” as they are at least 109 million years old. In fact, it is believed that the snakeheads existed alongside the last dinosaurs of the region before they went extinct. They have eel-like bodies, large mouths, and sharp teeth, which allow them to catch and eat other fish.
The Golden Mahseer is found in streams, rivers, and lakes in India’s Himalayan region. The word ‘Mahseer’ is a combination of ‘Mahi’ meaning fish, and ‘sher’ meaning tiger — the tiger among fish — for its fast and elusive nature! Because of this, the golden mahseer species is one of the toughest freshwater sport fish. Sadly, this also means that their population is in severe decline because of over-fishing.
Dugongs are found in the warm Pacific and Indian oceans. These large grey marine mammals are known for having a friendly nature, and a lifespan of up to up to 70 years! These mammals are also called sea cows because they are the only marine mammals with a completely herbivorous diet.
As we celebrate India’s rich cultural heritage, let’s not leave our marine ecosystems out. While our aquatic wildlife is vibrant, it also faces many threats from human activities like overfishing, climate change, pollution, etc. Let’s take actionable steps to protect the lives of these unique creatures so we can continue being proud of India’s marine biodiversity!