Filipinos learn to rescue whales, dolphins



Posted on 22 May 2012  | 
Swimming at the beach, you quickly notice something huge thrashing in the water. Panic vanishes as you realize it is a whale, stranded by the tide. What do you do?

To address rising incidents of whale and dolphin strandings, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-Philippines) recently conducted a two-day cetacean stranding rescue workshop at Hamilo Coast in Nasugbu, Batangas. Over 40 staff and officers from Hamilo Coast underwent classroom and field sessions on cetacean biology, identification, threats, conservation and actual rescue techniques.

“Few Filipinos realize that whales are found right here in the Philippines,” explains WWF-Philippines Hamilo Coast Project Manager Paolo Pagaduan. “Training local residents to rescue cetaceans far more than ensures the safety of stranded whales and dolphins – it cultivates their natural sense of stewardship.” 

Cetaceans include all whale, dolphin and porpoise species, divided by type: Odontocetes or toothed whales feed primarily on fish and squid. Mysticetes or baleen whales have fringed strips of hair-like plates in place of teeth and feed primarily on plankton, krill and tiny fish. Twenty eight – a full third of all known species – have been recorded in Philippine waters as of 2012.

Hamilo Coast has since 2007 been working closely with WWF to restore and protect the degraded coastlines and marine resources of Nasugbu, Batangas. The 8000-hectare eco-tourism project has fused tourism with sustainable land development by balancing conservation and land conversion. 

Whale and Dolphin Strandings in the Philippines

Each year, thousands of cetacean strandings are reported worldwide. Some die at sea and wash ashore, while others become trapped in shallow water. Left unaided, many die within a day or two.

About a dozen stranding events are reported in the Philippines yearly, most occurring during the Amihan or north-eastern monsoon from November to March. During this period, strong winds generate stronger-than-usual currents.

WWF-Philippines Vice-Chair and CEO Lory Tan says, “Our priority should be to return stranded cetaceans to their natural habitats as soon as possible. WWF conducts these workshops so local leaders know just what to do.”

Cetacean stranding causes include the presence or a lack of food, predators, stress, injuries, disease, pollution, rough seas, tidal fluctuations, undersea quakes, seismic testing, blast fishing or the disruption of magnetic fields used by some cetaceans for navigation.

On 10 December 2009, a stranded 29-foot Bryde’s Whale (Baleanoptera edeni) was towed and set-free by locals in nearby Barangay Calayo, Nasugbu.

On 10 February 2009, 300 Melon-headed Whales (Peponocephala electra) were stranded off the towns of Pilar and Orion in Bataan, in the largest recorded stranding event in Philippine history. Three of the whales died but the majority were herded to deeper waters by volunteers.

On 3 March 2009, another pod of 100 Melon-headed Whales was ushered back to deeper waters in Odiongan, Romblon.

"When I was young, beached dolphins used to be slaughtered for meat," recounts Hamilo Coast Security Officer and Barangay Calayo resident Zaldy Flores. "The skills shared by WWF have given us both the competence and confidence to deal with future strandings. We’re now ready to rescue all stranded whales and dolphins in Nasugbu.”

Batangas Volunteer Saves Hundreds of Dolphins, Turtles

“You don’t have to be a doctor or a vet to save lives,” explains WWF Hero of the Environment and dolphin mural painter AG Saño. “Jessie De Los Reyes, a Bantay Dagat or Sea Patrol volunteer based in Calatagan, Batangas, was able to rescue and release hundreds of sea turtles, dolphins, sharks and even a large whale because he attended a workshop like this. If one person can do this, imagine what can happen if all 40 people here emulate him.”

Led by WWF-Philippines CEO Lory Tan, author of the multi-awarded book, ‘A Field Guide to Whales and Dolphins in the Philippines’, the training team was composed of Paolo Pagaduan, AG Saño, Marlyn Santiago, Vanessa Vergara, Joanne Arnaldo and Gregg Yan.

WWF has been collaborating with leading Filipino marine mammal experts and conservationists to conduct marine mammal training programs with local governments, coastal communities and private sector allies since 1997.

So what to do in a stranding situation? “Immediately contact WWF-Philippines, the Marine Wildlife Watch of the Philippines or local authorities. WWF-Philippines alone has a 25,000-strong following on Facebook and pools volunteer experts from a wide range of disciplines to accomplish conservation goals. We’re just a Facebook message or a text away,” says Pagaduan.  

“All Pinoys can do their part,” shares Saño. “When at the beach, throw your trash in bins. Here and abroad, never order whale or dolphin meat. Finally, we call on everyone to boycott dolphin shows. If you love dolphins, then please watch them in the wild. Palawan, Bohol, the Tañon Strait and the Davao Gulf are excellent places to see them in their natural element.” (30)

For more information, contact:

Gregg Yan, Communications and Media Manager, WWF-Philippines
+63 917 833 4734, gyan@wwf.org.ph

Volunteers from Barangay Calayo and Hamilo Coast guide a 29-foot long Bryde’s Whale (Baleanoptera edeni) which was stranded by the tide. The whale was swiftly towed and set-free.
© WWF-Philippines Enlarge
A response team quickly cordons off the site, takes measurements, applies wet cloth to the cetacean’s exposed surfaces, crafts a temporary shade and prepares a litter to transport the animal to sea. As with any rescue operation, time is of the essence.
© Gregg Yan Enlarge
Workshop participants guide an inflatable Killer Whale (Orcinus orca) to deeper waters. It took 20 minutes for this team to mobilize and find the stranded whale. Within another 21 minutes it was released, completing the simulation. Live Killer Whales have been spotted off Sarangani Bay in Mindanao. 19 May 2012.
© Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan Enlarge
One of two teams revel after successfully responding to the morning’s strandings. Over 40 representatives from various sectors completed the intensive two-day workshop in Batangas.
© Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan Enlarge
Whale shark (Rhincodon typus) seen from underwater with snorkler in Indo-Pacific Ocean.
© Jürgen Freund / WWF-Canon Enlarge

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