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

A Rough-toothed Dolphin (Steno bredandensis) was found stranded at Nambangan Beach, Kenjeran, East Java last night. The Dolphin has plenty of white spots around the body which is atypical of its species. Possible existence of morbilivirus or pox has been suggested. The dolphin has been transported to Surabaya Zoo for further examination. News and photos from the Community for Environmentally-conscious Journalists (Komunitas Jurnalis Peduli Lingkungan) via Rifqi Ajier.

The Dolphin has been released this afternoon. Rifqi reported that it’s been swimminh further away from the shore. Continuous monitoring has been made. The team will report back in the morning

Update: Danielle Kreb asked some folks at the Cetal Fauna page. One of them (Robin Baird) has the following answer: “Nothwithstanding the report of these marks "wiping off”, they are scars from Cookie-cutter Shark (Isistius brasiliensis) bites. Based on long-term re-sightings of individual Rough-toothed Dolphins (and many other species) in Hawaii we’ve been able to watch the progression of healing in these lesions, from fresh bites, to healed over wounds, to slowly re-pigmenting scars. They are visible (largely unchanged except what you would expect based on slow re-pigmentation) for many years, not what you would expect if it was a viral infection. Every adult Rough-toothed Dolphin we have photos of show these types of scars on the belly.“

Update: the dolphin was found dead this morning…

Source: Whale Strandings Indonesia Facebook

Another dolphin, a young Rough-toothed Dolphin (Steno bredanensis) also stranded in Brgy Saud, Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte. The animal was deemed releasable by PMMSN Ilocos Norte but it was transferred to Brgy Baloi where the water is calmer by the team composed of PAO, PVO, MAO (Pagudpud), PNP, and the fisherfolks of both barangays. The coast is being monitored in case the Dolphin re-strands.

Image by: Dr. Jeneveve Suliva

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

A belated update re: the Rough-toothed Dolphin (Steno bredanensis) stranding in Suppa, South Sulawesi on 28-29 April 2015. The rescue team was led by Mr Moh Rizal from the Makassar BPSPL. The dolphin was rehabilitated for one night in a local fish pond with a makeshift stretcher. However, Mr Rizal et al. found the dolphin to be dead on the morning of 29 April. Necropsy was conducted on the same morning, but since no vet was available on site, cause of death was unidentifiable. Nevertheless, we would like to thank the local DKP, the local BPSPL (marine and fisheries officials) and the local villagers for their amazing efforts in trying to rescue the dolphin. Also deep gratitude to all friends at the Stranding Indonesia WhatsApp group (e.g., RASI, JAAN, WWF, APEX Environmental, CORAL, LIPI, etc) for the technical discussions that had helped the on-site first responders.

Source: Whale Strandings Indonesia Facebook

Philippines: No end yet to stranding of dolphins

By Yolanda Sotelo, 11th March 2015;

On Feb. 13 last year, a juvenile Spinner Dolphin (Stenella longirostris), was found on the beach of Badoc town in Ilocos Norte. It had burns and was in need of immediate medical treatment and rehabilitation.

The female dolphin, named “Valentina” because she was found on the eve of Valentine’s Day, has since regained her health, but her hearing was impaired due to acoustic trauma caused by blast fishing.

Dr. Lemuel Aragones, president of the Philippine Marine Mammal Stranding Network (PMMSN), advised Valentina’s caretakers at a marine park in Zambales against returning her to the wild. When sea mammals lose their hearing, they also lose their capacity to navigate in the ocean and their abilities to find food and to socialize, he said.

“Julius,” a Fraser’s Dolphin (Lagenodelphis hosei), however, was not as lucky. He was one of 33 Fraser’s or Sarawak Dolphins that beached in the shores of the Lingayen Gulf from Pangasinan to La Union provinces from Jan. 26 to Feb. 5.

Julius was found on the Lingayen beach on Jan. 27 and was taken to Ocean Adventure Marine Park at Subic Freeport in Zambales for medical treatment. He died on Feb. 17.

According to the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), 22 of the dolphins had died while eight were released back to the sea. Two were seen alive in the Lingayen Gulf, while Julius died while undergoing treatment.

It looks like there’s no end yet to marine mammal stranding in the gulf.

On Feb. 20, “April,” a Rough-toothed Dolphin (Steno bredanensis), was rescued by the PMMSN and local government workers in Sinait, Ilocos Sur province. It was later transferred to a fishpond to allow better rehabilitation.

Unabated blast fishing

In a letter to Nestor Domenden, BFAR Ilocos regional director, Aragones said that while treating the stressed and sick April, he and two other responders heard dynamite blasts in the sea.

“This happened after I interviewed a few locals who admitted that dynamite fishing is still being practiced in their area,” Aragones, a professor at the University of the Philippines’ Institute of Environmental Science and Meteorology, said.

The Ilocos region has had the highest rate of marine mammal stranding in the country in the past five years, most probably because of unabated blast fishing, he said in a telephone interview. He said the dolphin beaching in La Union (two towns) and Pangasinan (nine towns) this year may have been caused by blast fishing.

“When blasting occurs even far from where they are located, sea mammals lose their balance, fall on their side and their noses get clogged and they cannot breathe. This is much like humans, when we sleep on our side and when our noses get clogged so we can’t breathe,” Aragones said.

He said marine mammal stranding and deaths were just the “visible” manifestations of how blast fishing was killing marine animals.

Bigger problems

“There are deeper and bigger problems [due to the impact] of blasting, such as destruction of corals and killing of all kinds of fish, including the larvae or eggs. But these are not given much attention. Since people react passionately when sea mammals are killed, we are using [cases of] marine mammal stranding to call attention to illegal fishing’s serious effects on marine life,” he said.

After the beaching of the 33 Fraser’s Dolphins in January, the BFAR sent investigation teams to the different coastal towns along the Lingayen Gulf.

Their findings confirmed rampant blast fishing in the gulf facing the West Philippine Sea, said Dr. Samantha Licudine, a veterinarian of the BFAR regional office.

Marine mammals are attracted to the Lingayen Gulf when “acetes” (baby shrimps) are plenty, like when a pod of Fraser’s Dolphins was first seen in the waters off Aringay and Agoo towns in La Union on Jan. 26, said Belmor Bugawan, acting head of the fishery resources management division of the BFAR in the Ilocos.

Manuel Ugaban, Aringay municipal agriculture officer, said the dolphins that beached in Barangay (village) Alaska, where blast fishing was once rampant, had wounds that could have been caused by spears or shrapnel from homemade explosives.

“Maybe they got tangled in some nets, or some unscrupulous fishermen pierced them with sharp objects, so they swam to the shore,” he said.

Alaska residents no longer hurt marine mammals, believing that the sea was claiming large sections of their village whenever there is storm surge due to their illegal deeds in the past, Ugaban said.

“Residents now refuse to eat meat of sea mammals,” he said. “Nobody would even buy dolphin meat in the market.”

Aragones said the PMMSN would help the BFAR, local governments and fishing communities in the Ilocos stop or reduce incidents of blast fishing to ensure a healthy coastal and marine environment in the region.

Source: Philippine Daily Inquirer

Philippines: No end yet to stranding of dolphins

Sorry sight: Some Kinabalu Golf Club staff and members of the public looking at the dolphin carcass on Tanjung Aru beach in Kota Kinabalu.

Malaysia: Dead dolphin found on Tanjung Aru beach
11th November 2014;

A dead dolphin caused a stir among joggers along the Tanjung Aru beach here.

A jogger, identified only as Harun, 49, said he noticed something like a big fish on the shore and approached it for a closer look at about 6.30am yesterday.

“When I noticed it was a dolphin, I called a friend from the Wildlife Department to take the carcass away,” he said.

Others who gathered around the dead mammal captured pictures and selfies before the wildlife officers arrived at the scene at around 10am.

From its features, the officers identified the dolphin as that of the bottlenose hybrid.

A staff of the department said from the injuries seen on the body he believed the mammal had injured itself in fishing nets and died after that.

“It could have been dead since last night and was washed ashore by the waves this morning,” he said.

The carcass of the dolphin was later handed over to the Universiti Malaysia Sabah Borneo Marine Research Institute for a post-mortem to determine the cause of its death.

Dolphins as well as other mammals, such as whales, are often seen beached on the shores off Sabah.

Source: The Star

Not sure what a “bottlenose hybrid” is, but if I had to make a guess, based on the photo, this might be a Rough-toothed Dolphin (Steno bredanensis).

Yesterday, we were surprised by the news of a dolphin stranded in Kudat. We went to witness what could have been the reason for the incident. It was very emaciated, and all attempts to get it back into the sea failed, as it kept returning – a sign that it was unwell and perhaps with slim chance of survival. We sent the pictures that we took to Dr. Louisa Ponnampalam, and she told us that it was a Rough-toothed Dolphin (Steno bredanensis), an open and deeper water species. Today, we were informed that the dolphin has died after a few attempts of trying to quarantine it for treatment. It will be examined by the vets at the Sabah Wildlife Rescue Unit to investigate its cause of death.

Source: Kudat Turtle Conservation Society Facebook