Coastal Horseshoe Crab (Tachypleus gigas)

Tanah Merah, 11th April 2016

This Coastal Horseshoe Crab had been entangled and killed in a discarded fishing net.

Photo: Friends of PMMSN – Philippine Marine Mammal Stranding Network Facebook

Philippines: A killed Hero
By Michael L. Tan, 26th October 2016;

Each year, dozens of marine mammals — including some 30 species of Dolphins and Whales, plus the Dugong (Dugong dugon) and the Small-clawed Otter (Aonyx cinereus) — are stranded on Philippine shores. Between 2005 and 2016, there were 692 such incidents documented by the Philippine Marine Mammal Stranding Network (PMMSN), which sends rescue teams and then initiates treatment and rehabilitation.

One of those stranded mammals was Hero, a male Rough-toothed Dolphin (Steno bredanensis) that was found in Calapandayan, Subic, Zambales, on April 9, 2015 (Araw ng Kagitingan or Day of Valor).

There are popular misconceptions that these stranding incidents involve animals trying to commit suicide, but the real story is that these animals strand because of human activities. To be blunt, they don’t kill themselves; they’re killed.

Human garbage

In the case of Hero and many other stranded mammals, dynamite fishing led to acoustic trauma or damage in the animals, which then adversely affected their navigational capabilities. We tend to think of our ears only for hearing, but vertebrates, including humans, depend on the inner ear for balance. Vertigo, with symptoms like dizziness, results from a problem with the inner ear — a common problem among the elderly.

Hero was treated by PMMSN members — Dr. Leo Jonathan Suarez and a team of veterinarians connected with Ocean Adventure in the Subic Bay Freeport Zone — and seemed to be recovering well. But on Nov. 8, they noticed that he was not eating and appeared to be in pain. He seemed to be retching, trying to vomit something from his gut.

Hero’s condition improved for a few days around the third week of November, but then he stopped eating again. A few days later, the vets saw him trembling, swimming erratically, and retching for about five hours, before dying. The Dolphin died on Nov. 30, Bonifacio Day.

The vets performed an autopsy and found a piece of plastic in Hero’s throat. Down the esophagus, they found nylon and more plastic, all of which had ended up into a ball that obstructed the digestive tract. Hero had choked to death on human garbage.

It was not the first time the PMMSN found such garbage in stranded marine mammals. It’s hard to estimate how many of the mammals also ingest the garbage out at sea, and how many survive, or die. Other marine mammals strand because they get entangled in fishing nets and gear. Still others strand because they are ill, sometimes because of infections, other times because of chemical toxins from humans.

I listened to the report on Hero during a PMMSN conference held earlier this month in Vigan, Ilocos Sur. I attended mainly because the PMMSN is based in UP Diliman’s Institute of Environmental Science and Meteorology, and I was asked to deliver a keynote speech and a paper as well. I decided to stay on because I was curious about PMMSN activities.

It was an eye-opener. Stranded marine mammals are an example of why we need to have more One Health efforts, linking human medicine, veterinary medicine, and, the most neglected, environmental health concerns.

Paper after paper delivered at the conference showed how our neglect of the environment affects human and nonhuman animals. On my first day in Vigan, Dr. Lem told me that he and his team were treating a stranded Whale in Pangasinan for a respiratory infection, and were using ciprofloxacin, an antibiotic. I asked how they chose their antibiotics, and he said it’s actually been a problem with some of the mammals because they’re showing resistance to some of the drugs.

I was surprised. Antibiotic resistance is a serious problem now with humans because of misuse (over-prescription, self-medication). How could this happen with marine mammals?

Dr. Lem reminded me that the ocean is one large sink for human garbage and a host of chemicals from antibiotics to pesticides, and so it is not surprising that marine mammals are put in harm’s way as well. A paper read in the conference by chemist J. L. Bondoc talked about the human “cocktail of chemicals” that gets into the sea and affects marine mammals. She showed slides of the animals’ damaged livers, which were correlated with high levels of toxic chemicals.

Vet med

My first degree was in veterinary medicine. I was trained to treat dogs and cats, cows, pigs and horses, even carabaos — all mammals — plus a few birds, mainly chickens. When I got to Vigan, the first person I was introduced to was Dr. Nestor Domenden, the director of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) in the Ilocos. The bureau was coordinating much of the work with the PMMSN, and had taken care of organizing logistics for the conference. It made sense that the BFAR was taking care of Dolphins and Whales.

I then met veterinarians, and more veterinarians, and then it hit me. Back in vet school — still in UP Diliman at that time — we had an informal boundary: Our college took care of mammals and our next door neighbor, the College of Fisheries, took care of, well, fish. In Vigan, I realized that vets are taking on an expanded list of potential patients — still mammals, but those found in the sea.

I’m signing up with the PMMSN and hoping to join one of its future training workshops, in part to show that senior citizens can still pick up new causes and skills. But really, this is just a continuation of my older advocacies. I’ve worked on environmental causes for many years, and in public health, so this isn’t something completely new. The vet skills will need some honing; I just had to ask them where one extracts blood from a Dolphin (answer: a vein on the caudal or tail fin).

It’s my anthropology side that is most stimulated by the PMMSN activities. I delivered a paper in Vigan talking about how humans’ ability to care for other species — even willing to risk life and limb for them — is what adds to our definitions of humanity. Caring for dogs and cats is one thing; taking another step to care about Dolphins and Whales is a bit more difficult. But it’s happening.

In scientific conferences we usually find ourselves emotionally detached, dealing mainly with graphs and statistics. But the PMMSN conference was different: The papers tugged at our hearts’ strings, for example, when slides of butchered marine mammals were presented.

It was also encouraging to hear about how government patrols in the Ilocos had decreased dynamite fishing, which seems to have led as well to a decrease in the stranding of marine mammals. I was also touched to see a marine ambulance they had built, which the PMMSN hopes to replicate for the other regions. There are volunteers now all the way to Tawi-tawi.

I intend to write more about the PMMSN in the future. Interested in helping out? Do visit

Meanwhile, think hard about our garbage and how it might kill Dolphins like Hero. It’s not just plastic bags and wrappers. The weekend after Vigan, one of my daughters wanted to buy balloons and I had to gently tell her what one of the vets had told me: The balloons don’t end up in heaven; some come back to the earth, others into the sea. I bought her a balloon anyway, and our day ended with the balloon safely inside the house.

Source: Philippine Daily Inquirer

This beautiful adult female Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas) will no longer be a part in her species’ survival. She died yesterday due to compacted intestines full of plastic bags. Congratulations humans, killing without even trying.

Source: Darrell Blatchley Facebook

This adult female Green Turtle died last 21 October in Davao due to compacted intestines full of plastic bags.

Source: Marine Wildlife Watch of the Philippines Facebook

Philippines: Endangered Green Sea Turtle dies from plastic ingestion
23rd October 2016;

A Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas) that ingested plastic garbage died Saturday in Davao City due to infection.

Citing an environmental NGO, GMA News stringer Peewee Bacuño said the sickly Sea Turtle was washed ashore on Friday in Davao City’s Barangay 78.

Fishermen brought it to the NGO office where the Turtle was examined.

Darrel Blatchley, the NGO’s president, said the Turtle grew weak after ingesting over 10 types of plastic materials floating in the sea.

Blatchley said the Green Turtle species in the Sea Turtle family is already endangered.

Source: GMA News Online

WHALE CARCASS – Marine mammal expert Darrel Blatchley goes through the remains of a beached Whale that was found in Kadatu Beach, Pag-ibig Village in Barangay Dumoy, Davao City last Sunday.
Photo: Yas D. Ocampo

Philippines: Lego bricks, metal strands may have choked beached Whale in Davao
By Yas D. Ocampo, 3rd October 2016;

Interlocking plastic bricks, more popularly known as Lego, and strands of metal may have caused the death of a Short-finned Pilot Whale (Globicephala macrorhynchus) which was found on a beach on the southern part of Davao City Sunday.

Darrel Blatchley, an expert in marine mammal beaching, told reporters Monday that an initial autopsy of the Whale showed that it had ingested the foreign materials, which may have been floating in the Davao Gulf.

The beached Whale was found in Kadatu Beach, Pag-ibig Village in Barangay Dumoy here.

Blatchley, the American curator of D’Bone Collector Museum here, said the Whale that was found dead Sunday was the third to have been beached in the area.

Blatchley said that the Whale may have been dead for a week before ending up along the coast of Davao City.

When Blatchley’s team arrived on the scene last Sunday, the whale was already in a state of decomposition, which led the team to conduct an autopsy on the spot.

Its tail had also been cut off, but Blatchley said that this could have happened along the Davao Gulf.

According to Blatchley, the Whale may have died of starvation of dehydration.

The Whale weighed at least 400 kilograms and would have been at least 13 feet long, Blatchley said.

Some of the Whale’s teeth were also gone that led Blatchley to surmise that these were plucked by curious locals or beachgoers who were after souvenirs.

Possession of any part of protected creatures is prohibited by law.

The bones of the marine mammal were immediately picked up by the Bone Museum, which displays bones of various animals found in different parts of the Philippines in a privately-run facility in this city.

Source: Manila Bulletin

Photo: Pamilacan Turtle Facebook

Philippines: Green Sea Turtle ingested plastics, needs operation
1st October 2016;

A female Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas) weighing about 90 kilos and measuring about 76 cm by 120 cm was rescued by two fishermen who were catching fishes off Pamilacan island, caretaker Eugene Baogbog said in an interview.

He said that based on the environmentalists and the DENR’s observation, the Turtle might have eaten plastics, and that they’re now considering to operate on the Turtle so it can be saved.

Baogbog said that fishermen Elmer Valeroso and Randy Miculob found the sea mammal reptile floating and wounded in its left flipper. The wound appeared to be caused by a propeller, he said, but nobody could really tell how the Turtle was injured.

At the same time, due to what is believed to be plastics inside her digestive system, the Turtle lost balance and there are problems with her buoyancy.

According to Pamilacan Turtle’s Facebook post, “The Turtle has a boyancy problem. We have been told by the veterinarian to deflate. We are able to deflate around 40 percent. The Green Sea Turtle has a big cut and needs rehabilitation for 3 weeks then when it’s okay… we need to bring her back where she belongs.”

The Turtle is under observation at a pond with seawater at the back of the municipal hall in this town and needs monitoring 24/7, Baogbog said.

According to Wikipedia, this species of Turtle is called the Green Turtle, not because of the color of its body, but the color of its fats.

Source: Northbound Philippines News Online