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Research, conservation of cetaceans need concerted effort

on 02 Mac 2011.

SANTUBONG: Local research and conservation monitoring efforts must be supported by increased cooperation and coordination between national and international conservation bodies with the involvement of government agencies if they are to be effective, suggested Texas A&M University professor Bernd Wursig.

Wursig, who was on the panel of ‘Determining and Quantifying Threats to Coastal Cetaceans' workshop organised by Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) at Permai Rainforest Resort here yesterday, stated that governmental and non-governmental organisations need to understand the importance of providing funding for basic and applied research, campaigns, education and incentives to change existing practices.

“Perhaps the most important first step in helping manage and protect coastal cetacean populations is enhancing capacity and governance frameworks.

“Education and infrastructure improvement through workshops and research projects that include local graduates and students, local capacity building and awareness raising efforts could provide good examples on how we can empower local scientists and the communities,” added the professor who is also the co-editor of ‘The Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals'.

He was delivering his speech at the workshop's opening ceremony.

Wursig also stated that at the same time, government and developers need to realise that management strategies must include rapid action and be flexible.

Stating an example, he said: “It can take years of photo-identification and line-transect study to generate reliable population estimates and even longer to generate data on population trends.

“If we wait until researchers have had time to follow the traditional process of generating population estimates, then trends, estimating mortality rates and causes of mortality, some population maybe gone before we get a chance to act.”

He said knowing that certain habitats are important for cetaceans through robust surveys designed to determine relative abundance should be sufficient to convince managers to protect those habitats.

“Likewise, knowledge that a particular human activity is causing dolphin mortality at any level should be sufficient to motivate managers to find ways to reduce that mortality without having to wait for scientists to determine whether that mortality was ‘sustainable' within the next five to 10 years.

“As much as scientists and stakeholders are interested in the survival of coastal cetacean population, we should demand that action comes from educated public institutions and the public itself.”

Meanwhile, Wursig stressed that there are many populations of cetaceans that are endangered but unfortunately there is not much information on all the species, sub species and sub populations.

Citing examples of those listed as ‘critically endangered' (species or population that have been determined to have fewer than 50 breeding females), he mentioned species such as Baiji river dolphin in China and the vaquita off the coast of Mexico; the Antartic blue whale and the Maui's dolphin off the coast of New Zealand; the Western Pacific gray whale and the Cook Inlet beluga.

The list also included the five populations of Irrawaddy dolphins in Asia; the Eastern Taiwan Strait humpback dolphin and Baltic Sea harbour porpoise.

One common aspect all the species have is that all live in coastal or riverine areas which are the most affected by human activity.

Factors contributing to the tremendous decline of cetacean population include overfishing of its food supplies, ship strikes and noise, by-catch in fishing gear which is dubbed probably the largest threat worldwide affecting an estimate of about 600,000 marine mammals each year, habitat degradation, large scale habitat transformation and climate change.

Extracted from The Borneo Post.

Arkib Berita

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