Indonesia’s new stranding network

Indonesia has one of the longest coastlines in the world – over 80,000km. About 35 species of cetaceans, plus the dugong, are known to occur in the region, and a myriad of human activities take place in the marine environment.  Therefore the country is likely to experience a large number of stranding events. Records of strandings in Indonesia are being compiled opportunistically and presented on a new website: www.whalestrandingindonesia.com.  This shows 102 stranding events from 2000-2012, about half of which were of unidentified species. Considering Indonesia’s long coastline and the lack of systematic reporting, this number is likely a great underestimate of the actual number of strandings.

In November 2012, following a high-profile stranding of 48 short-finned pilot whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus) in East Nusa Tenggara Province, the Indonesian Ministry of Marine and Fisheries Affairs officially formed a National Committee to establish a National Stranding Network and develop a stranding protocol.  The National Committee is expected to publish the final stranding protocol in April 2013 and this protocol will be distributed to all provinces in the country. To better coordinate in-country stranding response efforts, the Committee has formed seven working nodes in Indonesia: Sumatra, Bali, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, East Nusa Tenggara, and Papua. Local network mechanisms (including call center, coordination and funding) will be discussed in the next few months with the following schedule: April (Bali), May (East Nusa Tenggara), June (East Kalimantan) and October (West Java).  First-responder training will also be given and nation-wide veterinary training will be conducted before the end of the year.

For further information, contact Putu Liza Mustika (‘Icha’) at putu.liza@my.jcu.edu.au.

Assessment of the sustainability of Solomon Islands live dolphin captures

There is a long history in the Solomon Islands of drive-hunts targeting dolphins. Recently, the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops aduncus), a species not previously targeted by drive-hunters, has been subject to live-captures and export for display in dolphinariums and other facilities. The current quota of dolphins that can be exported each year is 50. Since 2003, 108 T. aduncus have been exported, however the actual number of dolphins removed from local populations is probably much larger given unaccounted-for deaths during capture and local captivity.

In 2009, a collaborative project was initiated by the Solomon Islands Government and the South Pacific Whale Research Consortium to assess the impacts of live-captures on the dolphin populations and improve management and conservation. The final report of that investigation, which summarises T. aduncus population status and assesses the sustainability of live-captures, was completed in March 2013. It is available here. The results of the study are summarised briefly below:

From November 2009 to July 2011, three sets of boat surveys were conducted at four study sites in the Solomon Islands, including the areas where all captures have occurred so far, i.e. north-western Guadalcanal and, to a lesser extent, western Malaita. The other two sites were the Florida Islands and southern Santa Isabel. Nine species of marine mammals were observed, including 45 groups of T. aduncus. The T. aduncus were always observed near shore (<2 nautical miles from the coast) and in shallow waters (<100 m deep). Of 225 photo-identified individuals, 46 were re-sighted in different years. All but one of the resightings were within one of the study sites, suggesting a high degree of site fidelity.

Abundance estimates from closed-population capture-recapture models suggest that each study site has a population in the low hundreds (about 100 to 300 individuals) but estimates were not precise for Malaita. Calculations of Potential Biological Removal (PBR) levels suggest that removals should be limited to one dolphin every five years for north-western Guadalcanal and the Florida Islands and one dolphin every two and a half years for southern Santa Isabel and western Malaita. On the basis of the PBR, the authorized export quota of 50 dolphins/year appears to be unsustainable for local populations. A new management procedure taking these findings into account is necessary. If any, future quotas should be species-specific and based on captures, rather than number of exports, which does not account for mortality during the capture process or local holding prior to shipment. The report suggests a complete capture ban in Guadalcanal until future monitoring shows an increase in abundance.

Update on conservation of the critically endangered Mekong River Irrawaddy dolphins

The CSG has provided technical support to efforts to save the Mekong River’s critically endangered Irrawaddy dolphins – only about 85 remain in Cambodia and Laos. There is some good news – with new protection and research efforts.

The entire current range of Irrawaddy dolphins in the Cambodian Mekong River was declared protected by the government last year – permanently prohibiting gillnet use in core areas. Generous funding through the Save Our Species fund will provide training and equipment to Cambodian Fisheries Officers and River Guards to protect dolphins from entanglement, which remains the leading cause of adult mortality.

High levels of calf mortality remain a major threat to this sub-population. In ongoing efforts to resolve the problem, remote biopsy work will be conducted by local conservationists in partnership with specialists from the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration: Lisa Ballance, Bob Pitman and Bob Brownell.

Efforts are also underway to better understand Mekong dolphin population dynamics using photo-identification work conducted by Dr Isabel Beasley from 2001 to 2005, and photo-ID data being collected on an ongoing basis by the Cambodian Fisheries Administration and WWF. The results of analyses of the long-term, combined dataset are expected to be out soon.

More information on these efforts can be found in our Special Projects section.

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