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Principal Investigator: Leela Rajamani, Centre for Marine and Coastal Studies (Malaysia)

Funding year: 2013

Main objectives:


  • To enhance expertise in undertaking cetacean abundance surveys and ecological studies in Southeast Asia using DISTANCE-based line transect methods and photo-identification techniques.   
  • To increase information on the cetacean fauna in waters around Penang Island, in the Malacca Strait, Malaysia.
  • To determine abundance and distribution of cetaceans around Penang Island, Malaysia, particularly those of the newly discovered populations of Irrawaddy and humpback dolphins.

  • To introduce the use of interviews and local knowledge in in determining crude abundance, distribution, occurrence and trends in situations where resources are limited.


Main outcomes:


14 workshop participants from eight SE Asian countries received comprehensive training in cetacean classification, line transect survey techniques, interview survey methods, mark-recapture abundance estimation and basic cetacean autopsy methods. Participants were from Malaysia, Vietnam, The Philippines, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, Singapore, India and Colombia.


In addition to providing training, the workshop served as a venue for discussion and knowledge sharing, as well as providing networking opportunities. This facilitated the exchange of information, skills and opportunities both currently and into the future. A facebook page - ‘Young marine mammals researchers of southeast Asia’ - was also created.


Line transect surveys implemented by the participants covered a total of 125 km. Rough sea conditions necessitated truncation of transects but a total of six on-effort and five off-effort sightings, including of the finless porpoise, Irrawaddy dolphin, Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin and one unidentified dolphin. Notable amongst these were  records of finless porpoise in the southwest of Penang, as well as three sightings of large groups (15, 25 and 50 individuals) of humpback dolphins.


Images collected by participants were used to develop a first identification catalogue for humpback dolphins in Penang. Analyses of high quality images led to the identification of 44 individuals, of which one was resighted on a subsequent survey day. Although data are preliminary, the raw group sizes and a photo-id discovery curve suggest that the population of humpback dolphins in Penang is sizable and may be moving around the island. A comparison with a corresponding catalogue from Langkawi, 119 km to the north is recommended.



Leela Rajamani. 2015. Capacity Building In Conducting Cetacean Abundance Surveys In Southeast Asia Through A Training Workshop And Actual Surveys. Final Report submitted to the International Whaling Commission. Paper to follow.