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BFAR Caraga gears up for Marine Mammal Stranding


The seas that surround the planet cover 70% of the earth’s surface. The Pacific Ocean alone wraps it way half the globe. The ocean’s make up over 97% of the Earth’s inhabitable space, and a share number of marine animals far exceeds that of which inhabits the land. It’s no wonder then that animals that live on land return to the water to search for the almost inexhaustible supply of food.

As a result, some of these individuals have evolved into some of the biggest and most intelligent animals on the planet – the marine mammals.

To better understand the biology and characteristics of marine mammals and further capacitate BFAR fieldworkers to implement proper techniques towards marine mammal strandings, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic ResourcesCaraga in partnership with the Philippine Marine Mammal Stranding Network (PMMSN), conducted a 3-day training-workshop on Marine Mammal Conservation and Stranding Response held last June 7-9, 2018 at Arena Blanca Resort, Britania, San Agustin, Surigao del Sur.

Dr. Lemnuel Aragones, professor from the Institute of Environmental Science and Meteorology of the University of the Philippines-Diliman, tackled about marine mammals and their biology, community responses towards strandings, as well as the Philippine laws pertaining to marine mammals.

"As a scientist, I cannot but help to emphasize the roles that these animals (mammals) play in our ecosystems, a dolphin (in particular), it cleanses the weak individuals in the population of the fish and by doing so, it improves the genetic material left in that population,” said Dr. Aragones.

“Of the more than 7,000 islands in the Philippines, only around 2,000 are inhabitable islands-very sustainable in practices. However, there is a high risk and possibilities for these marine mammals to strand to those uninhabited islands - that therefore is a rationale for us to take our time and our effort to learn how to help these animals,” Dr. Aragones added.

According to Dr. Aragones, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. In every accident, in every emergency cases, people tend to get easily affected that they would want to help but sometimes they do not possess the right skills, right knowledge, right training to respond properly, so what ends up with good intentions was an improper response.

“There should be no stranding that should be taken in vain. All strandings have value, and one of which will be the scientific information that it can generate,” the professor added.

Likewise, Ms. Bianca Christiane Espinos, instructor from PMMSN, discussed what stranding is, causes of marine mammal strandings, types of strandings, why respond to stranded marine mammals, and emergency first response.

According to Ms. Espinos, the most distressing causes of marine mammal strandings are induced by humans.

“Dynamite fishing causes acoustic trauma, water is denser than air and with that sound travels farther in water, that it can still be heard two to five kilometers away from the point of incidence, that’s how fast the sound waves travel underwater,” Ms. Espinos explained.

“It causes disruption to their inner ears; they will lose their sense of orientation. They become disoriented, and they cannot keep their blowhole above the water, there is a tendency for them to get drown and to die,” she pointed out.

Other than dynamite fishing, Pollution also plays a big role in strandings accordingly.

“We have a number of animals died due to eating plastics. There was a case in 2008, a stranding, we rehabilitated this Risso’s dolphin for nine days. On the first day, the animal vomited plastics, but when the animal died after nine days, when we did the necropsy, the stomach was really full with plastics, as in impacted, in other words the linings in the stomach were damaged and the digestive tract was covered up with plastics,” the PMMNS instructor recalled.

“Chemical pollution can really disrupt their natural functions. It can suppress their immune systems, make them more vulnerable to diseases and sickness, it can cause reproductive failure, and it could also affect their hormones, and they could also get cancer as well,” Espinos said.

“All of these happens long term in the body. And the only way we can know about all of these things is when we study the stranded animals. So, when we respond to stranded animals, we always reiterate how important it is to get samples (whether dead or alive) because that’s where we can determine what the cause of stranding in the cellular level is,” the marine biologist added.

Furthermore, Dr. Leo Jonathan Suarez, assistant professor from the University of Philippines-Los Baños, talked about decision making, handling and transport of stranded marine mammals, general aspects of rehabilitation, morphometrics, and necropsy and carcass disposal.

“There are several things in assessing the animal’s condition; first, it is important to check the buoyancy, then the swimming ability of the animal; second is its respiration, and finally check the physical body condition of the animal,” said Dr. Suarez.

“Consider age appropriateness. You should be able to provide its social needs. Consider also the risk of disease transmission to wild population and lastly, there should be no permanent impairments. These are the things that you need to think of before deciding whether to release or to take long care for the animal,” Dr. Suarez added.

After the lecture sessions, the participants had their hands-on training on a beach setting. It was conducted to dramatize the process and proper techniques in responding a stranded marine mammal.

The said training-workshop was attended by 45 personnel of the Bureau, mostly assigned in the different coastal municipalities of the region as fisheries livelihood development technicians, enumerators of the National Stock Assessment Program, staff from the regional fisheries laboratory, regional fisheries training and fisherfolk coordination division, regional fisheries information section as well as the fisheries protection and law enforcement group.

To conclude, an examination was conducted to assess the level of knowledge acquired by the participants throughout the 3-day training-workshop.