Photographs by Nick Baker

Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphin (Sousa chinensis) at Air Papan, Johor, Peninsular Malaysia

Location: Air Papan Beach, Johor, Peninsular Malaysia.

Habitat: Coastal, shallow marine

Date and time: 03 June 2014, 18:45 hrs.

Description of observation: : A dead specimen, with an estimated total length of 2.0 metres, was observed floating in the sea, 100 metres from the beach. Over the next 30 minutes it was pushed towards the shore by wave action, and then finally coming to rest on the beach (Fig. 2.). A group of local people showed interest in the dead dolphin, but did not touch the body (Fig. 1).

Remarks: The subject is identified as Sousa chinensis based on the size and triangular shape of its dorsal fin, and on its relatively long, slender beak. The colour of this specimen is grey dorsally, and white ventrally: the species can vary considerably in colour from grey to pure white to pink, and can grow to 2.4-2.8 metres in length (Francis, 2008).

The specimen showed no obvious external injury, however a constant stream of blood was seen issuing from the corner of the mouth, suggesting it had only recently died from illness or trauma (Fig. 3.). The body appeared fresh, and exhibited no smell.

Sousa chinensis occurs in warmer waters of the eastern Indian and western Pacific oceans, as well as coastal waters in the South China Sea. Jefferson & Smith (2015) list the range countries as follows: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia (Sumatra, Java, Borneo), Malaysia, China, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam (records from other countries are considered as unconfirmed or extralimital). Peninsular Malaysia therefore lies in the heart of the range of this species.

Air Papan is a sandy beach two kilometres in length facing northeastwards to the South China Sea. It is bounded by rocky headlands to the northwest and southeast. It is a popular holiday beach, with a profile that appears to be gently sloping.

References:

  • Francis, C. M. (2008). A Field Guide to the Mammals of South-East Asia. New Holland Publishers (UK) Ltd. 392 pp.
  • Jefferson, T. A. & Smith, B. D. (2015). Re-assessment of the conservation status of the Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphin (Sousa chinensis) using the IUCN Red List Criteria. Advances in Marine Biology: Humpback Dolphins (Sousa spp.): Current Status and Conservation, Part 2. 73: 1-21.

Source: Southeast Asia Vertebrate Records 2016: 58-60

Malaysia: Of pregnant tigers and sad whales

By Quek Yew Aun, 23rd February 2016;

February 2016 has been a grim month so far for Malaysian wildlife. In a span of less than one week, we have lost members of two very recognisable species ― a Malayan Tiger (Panthera tigris jacksoni) and a Bryde’s Whale (either Balaenoptera brydei or Balaenoptera edeni). Both died under very different circumstances; the former upon collision with a multi purpose vehicle while attempting to cross the East Coast Expressway 2 while the latter’s cause of death has yet to be confirmed.

Tigers and Whales along with a select few species are what conservationists call charismatic species ― animals unique enough to capture the attention of the general public. The reason for this is still unclear. Some may draw their charm from being large in size like the Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus), while others rely on their unconventional life histories, like the male gestating Seahorse (Hippocampus sp.). More often than not, charismatic species are used as de facto symbols for wildlife conservation.

Although both fauna possess these charismatic values, the story of how they died could not be more different. One tells of the gradual loss of Malaysia’s most iconic species in the face of development while the other, how a lack of evidence-based statements can lead to public confusion.

The tale of the Malayan Tiger

This year itself, we have taken six Tigers from the wild. Aside from the three (mother and cubs) lost in the accident, two were poached in January while another Tiger was found in a Wild Boar trap earlier this week. Six might not seem a large number but considering the Tiger population in Malaysia is estimated to be between 250-340, we have already removed 2.4 per cent of all Malayan Tigers this year alone!

Returning to the incident with the pregnant Tigress, I am pleased that the Minister of Environmental and Natural Resource Datuk Wan Junaidi has announced measures to prevent more such accidents in future including the proposal to build 37 eco-viaducts. However, I hope this will not turn out to be just a knee-jerk reaction in response to public outcry. More importantly, the incorporation of eco-viaducts should not be an excuse to build more roads.

According to Dr Reuben Clements of Universiti Malaysia Terengganu, eco-viaducts will undoubtedly reduce the impact of existing roads on wildlife. The very presence of roads, however, allows accessibility and hence intensifying further threat to wildlife like forest conversion, poaching and illegal trade.

In short, we have to build fewer new roads cutting through forests and focus on building viaducts for wildlife hot spots along the staggering 49,935 km of federal roads. If nothing is done in the near future, we are at risk of relegating Malaysia’s most iconic species to just adorning the covers of our passports.

A beached Whale

The story of the Bryde’s Whale that was found on Malaysian shores is indeed a tragic one. It was first sighted struggling in the shallow waters of Pontian last Monday. Local fishermen managed to tow the poor creature to deeper waters after several attempts. However, its carcass was found a day later about 100 kilometres away near the river mouth of Sungai Sarang Buaya.

In a video report by StarTV, three different reasons were given by “experts” as to why the Whale died. To make matters worse, the whale was misidentified as a Sei Whale (Balaenoptera borealis) when it was actually a Bryde’s Whale from the presence of three parallel ridges on its head.

In the video, a fishery officer explained that the Whale might have been under emotional duress and beached itself after being separated from its pod. A local university professor then theorised that shallower waters could have disrupted Whale migration patterns leading to an eventual stranding. Lastly the Johor branch president of the Malaysian Nature Society pinned the death on disorientation from the noise of heavy shipping in the narrow Malacca Straits.

In response to these claims, MareCet, the only local marine mammal NGO run by actual marine mammalogists, rebutted these statements in a Facebook post. According to them, this particular species of Whale is usually solitary, do not undertake seasonal migrations and do not use echolocation for communication hence would not be affected by shipping vessels. The barrage of inconsistent information is an example of how little we know about marine species inhabiting Malaysian waters and the need for evidence-based statements in reporting.

With that, I caution readers against totally believing reports on wildlife especially the ones that pop up on social media. Alas, only recently the Tokay Gecko (Gekko gecko) was hunted en masse for supposedly being able to cure HIV/AIDS. Ideally, it is good practice to fact check with something as simple as a Google search.

A bright side?

Taking a step back from the causes of death, both cases managed to garner a sizable following on social media. Is this a positive sign for Malaysian wildlife? Or are we Malaysians merely keyboard warriors looking for the next sensational story? I personally believe that everyone can and should have a part to play in conservation, from doing something as simple as spreading awareness on Whale species nomenclature to actively campaigning against the building of new roads that cut through forest.

In the immortal words of Winston Churchill: “Never let a crisis go to waste”, I hope that these twin tragedies will galvanise action to ensure a future for our wildlife, be it terrestrial or marine.

Source: Malay Mail

Malaysia: Of pregnant tigers and sad whales

The carcass of a Manatee Dugong was found washed ashore at a beach in Tanjung Logok here around 2.50pm today.
Photo: Johor Fisheries Department

Malaysia: Dead Manatee Dugong found on Tanjung Logok beach
By Halim Said, 2016;

The carcass of a Manatee (Trichechus sp.) (NOT a Manatee, it’s a Dugong!) was found washed ashore at a beach in Tanjung Logok here around 2.50pm today.

According to Johor Fisheries Department director Munir Mohd Nawi, the carcass of the animal measured 2.33m in length with a diameter of 0.84m.

Munir said the Manatee Dugong carcass was found by villagers in the area who informed the department about the finding.

“The Manatee Dugong was believed to have died before being washed ashore as it had started decomposing. The stomach area of the animal was already rotten,” he said.

He said an investigation paper will be opened to investigate the cause of death of the Manatee Dugong and why it had washed ashore in Johor.

This is the second deep sea marine creature and endangered marine life that was found on the beaches of Johor after a Sei Whale (Balaenoptera borealis) (NOT a Sei Whale, it was a Bryde’s Whale!) was found beached on Pantai Semerah beach in Batu Pahat, after it was first spotted in Pontian.

Source: New Straits Times

It’s honestly quite ridiculous (and incredible) that the original article in the New Straits Times identifies this Dugong (Dugong dugon) carcass as a Manatee (Trichechus), which aren’t found in Southeast Asia at all. Also, come on, Dugongs aren’t “deep sea” creatures; they’re inhabitants of shallow coastal waters.

I’m wondering whether these errors are coming from uninformed journalists, or whether the Johor Fisheries Department are the ones dispensing such misinformation. Although since the animal was correctly identified in Bernama, Malaysia’s national new agency, it’s likely that this was an error on the part of the New Straits Times.

Malaysia: Dead Dugong washed ashore in Kota Tinggi

19th February 2016;

A dead Dugong was found washed ashore at Pantai Tanjung Logok, near Kota Tinggi Friday.

Johor Fisheries Department director, Munir Mohd Nawi said the animal known by its scientific name Dugong dugon was found by members of the public at about 10 am before they alerted the department.

“After being informed, fisheries officers went to Pantai Tanjung Logok and found a Dugong carcass on the beach. It had started to decompose,” he said when contacted.

Munir said Dugongs were usually injured and killed after being hit by boat engine blade but the department would wait for a post-mortem to identify the actual cause of Dugong’s death.

He said judging from the external conditions, the Dugong was believed dead for more than 24 hours.

He said the department had so far been unable to determine where the Dugong came from and did not rule out the possibility it was dead much earlier before drifting onto the beach.

Touching on the Dugong species, Munir said the Johor state government had allocated RM1 million this year to develop a Dugong sanctuary in the area between Pulau Tinggi and Pulau Sibu, near Mersing.

“Under the sanctuary plan, the centre which is expected to start operation this year could accommodate 50 Dugongs,” he said.

According to Munir, the Johor Fisheries Department and the Johor state governmment would be developing the area as a sanctuary as it is rich in seaweeds which is a major food source of Dugongs.

Source: Bernama

Malaysia: Dead Dugong washed ashore in Kota Tinggi

Dead Dugong (Dugong dugon) found on the beach somewhere along the Johor east coast, in Tenggaroh area. MareCet has informed the authorities and has requested to participate in any post-mortem that may take place. We hope that we will be able to work together with them on this. This Dugong was a male, and judging from the many scratches on its back, was probably not a young animal. We are saddened by this, as this is the second dead Dugong in 4 months from within the small Johor east coast population.

Source: Orang Kota – Tinggi Facebook, via Langkawi Dolphin Research Facebook

Malaysia: Call for study on Whale-Dolphin deaths in Malaysia

By Mohd Farhaan Shah, 2016;

There have been 11 cases of beached Whales and Dolphins in Malaysia’s coastal areas in the past three months and a non-governmental organisation has called on the Government to conduct proper studies to save these animals.

MareCet founder and chairperson Dr Louisa Ponnampalam said marine research in Malaysia was quite new compared to that in Western countries which have the capabilities and financial resources to conduct such studies.

She pointed out that the recent case of a Whale that beached itself at Sungai Sarang Buaya, near Batu Pahat, was a good wake-up call for the Government to initiate research on such mammals.

There are 26 species of marine life that can be found in Malaysian waters, from Whales to Dolphins and even Dugong (Dugong dugon), but due to financial constraints with logistics issues, not many organisations are able to conduct proper research on these animals.

“Whale sightings in Malaysian waters, in particular at Langkawi and Kudat, are quite the norm but due to public misconceptions about these gentle creatures, there is not enough awareness,” she said.

Dr Louisa said the time was right for the Government to initiate a dedicated study on Whales, which would help shed light on the presence of the animal in our waters.

She said the Whale that beached itself in Pantai Rambah on Feb 8 might not be a Sei Whale (Balaenoptera borealis) as thought but a Bryde’s Whale (Balaenoptera edeni), which is a species that was typically found in warm, tropical waters.

“Proper research involving stakeholders will help us understand these Whales and give us important knowledge on marine conservation which will help us sustain all life in our waters,” she said.

It was reported that the Whale on Pantai Rambah was towed out to deep water by fishermen but the 15-tonne mammal was found dead in Batu Pahat about a day later.

A post-mortem found pieces of plastic rubbish in the Whale’s stomach, badly damaged internal organs and a parasite in the carcass.

Source: The Star

Finally, a news article that mentions that it’s not a Sei Whale (Balaenoptera borealis).

The taxonomy of the Bryde’s Whale is still far from settled; what we call the Bryde’s Whale has been split into two subspecies or even distinct species by some authorities: the true Bryde’s Whale, a larger species found in tropical and warm temperate waters worldwide (Balaenoptera brydei), and the Sittang or Eden’s Whale, a smaller form that may be restricted to coastal waters of the Indo-Pacific (Balaenoptera edeni). Both species(?) have been recorded from tropical waters of Southeast Asia.

Malaysia: Call for study on Whale-Dolphin deaths in Malaysia

Malaysia: Plastic garbage found in Whale carcass
14th February 2016;

Badly-damaged internal organs as well as a parasite have been found in the carcass of a Whale that was found along Sungai Sarang Buaya near Batu Pahat.

Johor Fisheries Department director Munir Mohd Nawi said an initial post mortem discovered small pieces of plastic garbage that had already decayed.

“We also found a large quantity of mud in its breathing organs,” he said, adding that this had caused breathing difficulties for the Whale.

“There is also a high number of orange-coloured nematode parasite within its intestines.

"During the post mortem, we also found its internal organs to be badly damaged,” he said when contacted.

Last Monday, the 12m-long male Sei Whale (Balaenoptera borealis) weighing 15 tonnes was seen at Pantai Rambah in Pontian where it had beached itself.

A group of people managed to pull it into deeper waters.

However, the carcass of the Whale was found 90 nautical miles at the river mouth of Sungai Sarang Buaya the next day.

Munir said the department would be conducting a histopathalogy (microscopic tissue examination) on the Whale’s tissue to find out further details about its death.

Tissue samples would be taken to a laboratory, and the results were expected within the next two or three weeks.

We want to know its exact cause of death as the Sei Whale is an endangered species under the International Union for Conservation of Nature,“ he said.

The bones of the mammal would be placed at the department’s temporary gallery as part of its educational programme for the public.

Source: The Star

The three longitudinal ridges along the rostrum are quite obvious in other photos, and are a characteristic feature of the Bryde’s Whale (Balaenoptera edeni); all other rorquals, including the Sei Whale, have only a single ridge along the upper edge of the rostrum. Hence it’s quite puzzling why this Whale has been identified as a Sei Whale, and it’s frustrating that the media is perpetuating this misidentification.

The taxonomy of the Bryde’s Whale is still far from settled; what we call the Bryde’s Whale has been split into two subspecies or even distinct species by some authorities: the true Bryde’s Whale, a larger species found in tropical and warm temperate waters worldwide (Balaenoptera brydei), and the Sittang or Eden’s Whale, a smaller form that may be restricted to coastal waters of the Indo-Pacific (Balaenoptera edeni). Both species(?) have been recorded from tropical waters of Southeast Asia.