“Protecting the marine ecosystem will save the Irrawaddy dolphin”

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The Irrawaddy dolphin is rarely seen on the coasts of Calabanga, Camarines Sur. Therefore, it was a surprise that one of the rare and beautiful creatures was finally seen in the area, leaving scientists at the University of the Philippines excited, but at the same time saddened by its misfortune.

A female dolphin, named “Caleb” by the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (DA-BFAR) and the Philippine Marine Mammals Stranding Network (PMMSN), has died after being accidentally caught in the net of a fisherman in San Miguel Bay off Calabanga on August 16.

Dr. Lem Aragones (in black mask), president of PMMSN and professor at UP Diliman, and Dr. Mariel Buccat (in gray coat) prepare to conduct a detailed study of Caleb’s remains.

Scientists said the young dolphin was in good health and could have been the first living specimen of her species ever recorded in this region.

An autopsy revealed that the dolphin’s stomach was still full of undigested fish, indicating that his death was sudden and unexpected.

“Caleb’s death is an unfortunate incident, but it paved the way for learning more about these rare and magnificent creatures,” said Dr. Lemnuel Aragones, PMMSN President and Professor at the Institute of Environmental Sciences. and meteorology from the University of the Philippines Diliman in a press release.

critical danger

The Irrawaddy dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris) is characterized by a gray or dark blue back and a pale belly. It has a high tolerance to varying levels of salinity, allowing it to live in areas where salty seawater and freshwater meet, such as at the mouths of rivers and bays.

It is one of the most endangered dolphin species in the world. It is listed as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List and by the Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

It was the first time an Irrawaddy dolphin had been found in the Pacific or the eastern Philippines.

Besides other populations of Irrawaddy dolphins in South and Southeast Asia, previous sightings in the Philippines have occurred in the western part of the archipelago, in Malampaya Sound, Palawan and in the Strait of Iloilo -Guimaras.

It has subpopulations in freshwater rivers, including the Ganges and Mekong, as well as the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar, from which it takes its name.

prehistoric marine mammals

Experts have yet to figure out how the Irrawaddy dolphins found their way to Palawan, Iloilo and Bicol.

Aragones said they may have been there since prehistoric times, before humans arrived in the archipelago and, possibly even before humans existed, when environmental conditions were likely optimal for their widespread migration. .

“Basically the populations have been there for a very long time, we just didn’t know how to look for them,” Aragones said.

Despite needing air to breathe, dolphins spend up to 95% of their lives underwater, allowing them to escape discovery.

Find Caleb’s family

Aragones said he wanted to know more about other possible marine mammal species in San Miguel Bay.

Caleb is proof, he said, that there is still so much to discover in the biodiversity-rich waters of the Philippines.

He and his team of marine mammal scientists and local BFAR staff are set to visit San Miguel Bay to hopefully find more Irrawaddy dolphins and study them in their natural habitat.

Scientific Research

Without proper investigation and understanding of the region’s ecosystems, unregulated human activity could kill not only the Irrawaddy dolphins, but also other possible yet undiscovered species in the region, the UP scientists said. .

Unsustainable and illegal fishing practices and poorly planned infrastructure threaten to disrupt local marine environments and biodiversity before scientists even have a chance to study them, the scientists said in the press release.

Not surprising

The Irrawaddy dolphin is elusive and rarely seen, Dr. AA Yaptinchay, executive director of Marine Wildlife Watch of the Philippines, told BusinessMirror on Sept. 29 when asked for comment.

However, he said that doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

According to Yaptinchay, locals may have seen them there, but only expert research can verify their presence, which is done through proper documentation.

Locals, he added, who know the species well, could not accurately describe them, stressing the need for proper survey or research to create a database of marine species that occur naturally or may be found in an area.

There is a method of investigation that scientists follow, he added.

like a dugong

According to Yaptinchay, the Irrawaddy dolphin resembles the dugong in appearance, except for the dolphin’s dorsal fins, or “palikpik”.

However, the Irrawaddy dolphin moves faster than the dugong, which is shy and gentle, although they both occupy the same ecosystem – shallow, muddy waters.

Occasionally, the Irrawaddy dolphin can be seen jumping above surface waters and prefers to feed on fish, unlike the dugong which prefers to stay underwater, foraging quietly in seagrass beds.

According to Yaptinchay, the Irrawaddy dolphin is not known to be a migratory animal or a long-distance traveler.

As a rule, it lives near the shore, near mangrove areas, muddy waters and near the mouths of rivers.

“It prefers shallow water,” he said.

Also threatened

Yaptinchay said all marine mammals are protected. Dolphins, he said, are protected by the DA-BFAR.

Unfortunately, he said, like other marine mammals, the Irrawaddy dolphin is targeted by fishermen.

“We haven’t seen fishermen catching them and eating them. But we know it happens,” said Yaptinchay, whose group advocates for the protection and conservation of large marine mammals and their habitats in the Philippines.

Yaptinchay said apart from hunting, the Irrawaddy dolphin is also threatened by habitat loss or destruction of natural habitat by so called development projects such as bridges, logging offshore mining and land reclamation, highlighting the need to identify critical habitats such as those occupied by the Irrawaddy dolphin. to prevent its extinction.

“We must declare these areas, after research and confirmation that an area is habitat for important species, as a critical habitat, marine protected area or fish sanctuary,” he said.

Protect marine habitats

Conservationists agree that in order to protect endangered species, you must first and foremost protect their habitats.

Gloria Estenzo-Ramos, vice president of Oceana Philippines, an international non-governmental organization advocating for ocean conservation, agrees with the need to protect important habitats of endangered marine animals.

“We must protect the habitats of the Irrawaddy dolphins and all forms of marine life, including fish, on which they and humans depend for their nutrients and their survival. A healthy marine ecosystem translates to a healthy and abundant ocean that benefits everyone,” Ramos, an environmental lawyer, told BusinessMirror via Messenger on September 29.

Illegal commercial fishing

According to Ramos, the number one threat is illegal commercial fishing, which is still rampant, with repeat offenders’ licenses remaining unrevoked.

“Karagatan Patrol [Ocean Patrol] prevented the extent of apparent illegal fishing in our municipal waters. We also need to increase marine protected areas. Projects that destroy marine habitats and ecosystems should no longer be allowed,” she stressed.

Ramos said that with the creation of 12 fisheries management bodies with their respective scientific advisory groups, there is no reason for management plans not to be rolled out.

This includes the national sardine management plan in 2020.

“[The] the key is genuine stakeholder participation, including artisanal fishers, and the political will to fully implement the law. For the Irrawaddy Dolphin, Earth Island Institute Ph is spearheading the petition to the DA-BFAR to declare its protection,” Ramos said.

Image credits: BFAR V, Shedy Masayon’s

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