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Asia's freshwater dolphins swim into rough waters

Experts warn of potential extinction of region's last surviving freshwater marine mammals

Captive Irrawaddy dolphins leap out of the water in Thailand. (Courtesy of Roland Seitre-WWF)

CHIANG MAI, Thailand -- Once upon a time a beautiful young woman sought suicide rather than being forced into marriage with a magical python. She leapt into the rushing waters of the Mekong River, but instead of dying she was transformed into a dolphin, with a smile on its upturned mouth.

This ancient tale from Laos and Cambodia, through which the mighty Mekong flows, does not end with "lived happily ever after." The last dolphin in Laos succumbed to human depredation and official neglect earlier this year.

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