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Monitoring and threat assessment of coastal cetacean populations in Sarawak, Malaysia

Principal Investigator: Gianna Minton & Cindy Peter, University Malaysia Sarawak

Funding year: 2011

Main objectives:

 

  • Refining and/or detecting trends in relative and absolute abundance for Irrawaddy dolphins, finless porpoise and humpback dolphins;

  • Refining the understanding of distribution and habitat preferences for each species in relation to seasonal and tidal cycles, water chemistry, depth, distance from shore and distance from river mouths;
     
  • Analysing the potential overlap between fishing effort and dolphin distribution, and between commercially targeted fish/crustacean species and cetacean prey;

  • Training and capacity building for three local scientists;
     
  • Raising awareness of cetacean conservation issues in coastal fishing communities, including strengthening of a grassroots stranding network;
     
  • Creating a coastal cetacean conservation management plan for Sarawak.

 

Main outcomes:

         

  • Extensive small boat survey effort (213 h, 3,290 km) yielded sightings of 102 groups of cetaceans (66 on effort), including Irrawaddy dolphins, humpback dolphins and finless porpoise.
     
  • Distribution of these species is clearly correlated to distance from shore, river mouths and key water parameters.
     
  • Estimates of abundance of Irrawaddy dolphins from line transect surveys of around 150 animals (CV=28%, 95% confidence interval 87-255) and mark recapture studies of around 235 (CV = 22.5%, 95% CI 151-360) are broadly consistent.
     
  • A line-transect estimate for finless porpoises of 135 (CV=31%, 95% CI 74- 246) was obtained, as was a mark-recapture estimate of 84 for humpback dolphins (CV=16.4%, 95% CI = 61-116).
     
  • The distribution of fishing gear strongly overlaps that of all species and during all but two sightings of Irrawaddy dolphins, gillnets were recorded within two kilometres. Two reported entanglements indicate that bycatches occur, and follow-on interviews indicate that many captures are likely unreported.
     
  • Two Malaysian students on the project completed MSc degrees and are recognised regionally and internationally as focal points for cetacean conservation in Sarawak, with one having a permanent university position that will ensure continuity of the Sarawak Dolphin Project. A third student neared completion and is still working in conservation in Sarawak.
     
  • Cetaceans were included in the Kuching Wetlands management plan as well as in EIA’s and planning for the Similajau Industrial Area.

Reports/Papers:

Peter et al. 2015. SARAWAK DOLPHIN PROJECT. Final Report, IWC Small Cetacean Fund, January 2015. 29 pp. Click here to read.

Minton et al. 2012. Four Simple Questions: Evaluating the Effectiveness of Half-Day Community Workshops Designed to Increase Awareness of Coastal Cetacean Conservation Issues in Sarawak, Malaysia. Applied Environmental Education & Communication 11(2)99-107. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/1533015X.2012.751292#.VPrTBfnz2So

Minton et al. 2013. Population estimates and distribution patterns of Irrawaddy dolphins (Orcaella brevirostris) and Indo-Pacific finless porpoises (Neophocaena phocaenoides) in the Kuching Bay, Sarawak. The Raffles Bulletin of Zoology 61(2):877-888. http://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/nus/pdf/PUBLICATION/Raffles Bulletin of Zoology/Past Volumes/RBZ 61(2)/61rbz877-888.pdf

Van Bressem et al. 2014. Cutaneous nodules in Irrawaddy dolphins: an emerging disease in vulnerable populations. Dis Aquat Organ 107(3):181-189. http://www.int-res.com/abstracts/dao/v107/n3/p181-189/