Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Sarawak Dolphin Project

At long last Sarawak’s Irrawaddy dolphins are to be the subject of a conservation based research project. I’ve constantly banged on about the need to actually go out and conduct some proper research and finally it is happening, great news. On 15th May 2008 the Sarawak Dolphin Project was launched in Kuching. I was aware that this project was on the cards. It has certainly taken a long time to put everything together so congratulations to everyone involved.

The project is a collaborative effort between Sarawak Shell, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS) and the Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC). UNIMAS has appointed Dr Gianna Minton as the project leader. Gianna spent 8 years in Oman studying whales and dolphins. Her PhD focused on the ecology and conservation of humpback whales in the Arabian Sea.

Sarawak Shell is providing a grant of RM 160,000 to facilitate the research. This is not the first time Shell have supported conservation work focusing on Irrawaddy dolphins. Shell Exploration Philippines funded WWF’s Malampaya Sound Ecological Studies Project in Palawan. This conservation project focused on the declining population of Irrawaddy dolphins in the confined waters of the Malampaya Sound.

SFC is the state’s principle wildlife protection agency and their staff will also be involved in the boat surveys and other aspects of the project.

The Sarawak Dolphin Project aims to collect baseline data on the seasonal distribution, habitat use and population of dolphins in Sarawak. The geographic focus of the project is Kuching and Miri. The research is not limited to Irrawaddy dolphins although survey efforts in Kuching will focus on near shore waters where the Irrawaddy is commonly sighted. Other species found in these waters are finless porpoises and Indo-pacific humpback dolphins. In Kuching research will focus on Salak/Santubong and neighbouring waters.

The launch of the project received good coverage in the local press. Unfortunately, the Borneo Post, Sarawak’s main English language newspaper decided to run a somewhat negative piece focusing on tourism as a threat to dolphins. The front page story with headline ‘Dolphin-watch tour packages cause for concern’ really missed the point of the whole story. Sarawak’s Irrawaddy dolphins face a number of threats but tourism is not exactly the major one. Incidental catch and habitat degradation are the main threats. Hopefully the Borneo Post will carry some follow-up stories that provide more balanced coverage of the project when the various surveys commence next month.

1 comment:

Ada said...

Hi, I only found this site after I saw the sign board with the name "Sarawak Dolphin Project" outside a room in my supervisor office. I was shocked and even bend down to make sure I didn't saw the wrong thing.
Anyway I felt happy for this project and the dolphin even I'm doing research in Orang Utan. I come from a small village and I can saw the effects of the developments to those animal. Last time we only found hornbill deep in the forest but now we can saw them everywhere (village) because the forest had been replace by the oil palm plantation.
I fully support you and the project and hope can hear more news from you. And wish to see more pictures about your tour. Good job!