How to Address Marine Mammal Strandings More Effectively

Written by on November 25, 2013 in Policy & Ocean Law

Editor’s Note — Cheryl Rita completed her MS in Marine Science, Policy and Law at the National Oceanography Centre Southampton (NOCS), University of Southampton, UK. She is presently the Head of the Centre for Coastal and Marine Environment at the Maritime Institute of Malaysia (MIMA), a policy research institute set up by the Malaysian Government to look into matters relating to Malaysia’s interest at sea.

Moving a notch forward on marine mammals conservation by addressing strandings more effectively
By Cheryl Rita Kaur

Beached pilot whales.

Beached pilot whales. Photo credit: angieandsteve via photopin cc.

In simple words, marine mammals become stranded when they swim or float to shore and become ‘beached’ or stuck in shallow waters. Although the phenomenon is global, their causes are still not well understood. Many strandings are thought to be linked to the impacts of anthropogenic activities such as shipping, seismic surveys, fisheries activities, military activities, and pollution. Strandings however provide valuable opportunities to increase scientific knowledge on these animals. They are also important indicators of the health of the seas, and key to understanding conservation needs. It is therefore vital that appropriate response actions are undertaken when a stranding occurs.

The issue was discussed in detail at a roundtable organised by the Maritime Institute of Malaysia (MIMA), the Institute of Ocean and Earth Sciences of the University of Malaya, and the Malaysian Nature Society in late 2010. Subsequent to which, a National Marine Mammals Stranding Response Network was established. With the necessary procedures and arrangements put into place, the network was officially launched by the Department of Fisheries Malaysia (DoFM) recently. Spearheaded by the DoFM, the team has 46 members from 23 government agencies, statutory bodies, universities and non-profit groups that have been involved in such efforts. The author represents MIMA as a member of this network.

Malaysia is the second of South-East Asian countries after the Philippines to form this network to handle beached mammals. The efforts involved in establishing a fully functional marine mammal stranding response network in Malaysia with relevant stakeholders cooperating with each other would place Malaysia on par with others that have established similar conservation programmes, besides supporting one of the goals of the Coral Triangle Initiative (CTI) programme to address endangered species conservation.

To make sure the group is fully functional in Malaysia, key areas emphasised include that on close coordination between relevant agencies, institutions and organisations including non-governmental organisations in ensuring a uniform and effective approach in handling strandings in Malaysia. For that, the group has adopted a standard operating procedure. Additionally, the group will also play a crucial role in creating public awareness on the importance of protecting this endangered group of animals in Malaysian waters.

Among others, it is envisaged that this group would be able to propose proper management plan and actions based on strandings data and information obtained from efforts undertaken on the matter over a period of time.

Beached humpback whale.

Beached humpback whale. Photo credit: NOAA.

Copyright © 2013 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

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