24 Oct New Hotspots for Oceanic Cetaceans Found in Maluku

The Rapid Ecological Assessment (REA) for Marine Mammals, conducted by the Coral Triangle Center and APEX Environmental has successfully identified several new hotspots for oceanic cetacean species, such as Blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus) and Sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) as part of a diverse oceanic cetacean species assemblage in the Ceram Sea, Maluku.

The REA survey, which was led by scientist Benjamin Kahn, included Ambon Bay to West Ambon, West and Northwest Ceram, Kelang Island, Buano Island, Manipa Strait, North Buru, Seram Sea – including the remote area of Sanana and Mangoli in the Sula Islands District of North Maluku. Supported by the USAID Sustainable Ecosystems Advanced (USAID SEA) Project, the survey was conducted non-stop during 10 field days, from October 15 to 24, 2017, and covered 1,017 kilometers of track line, with a total of 98.5 hours of daytime observation watches.

A total of 48 separate cetacean group sightings were recorded, resulting in a minimal animal count of 1,248 individuals based on a conservative method using surface-only observations on group composition and behaviors from 11 species, including Blue whales, Bryde’s whales (Balaenoptera brydei), Cuvier’s beaked whales (Ziphius cavirostris), Pilot whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus), Orcas or Killer whales (Orcinus orca), Melon-headed whales (Peponocephala electra), Fraser’s dolphins (Lagenodelphis hosei), Risso’s dolphins (Grampus griseus), Oceanic Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus), Spotted dolphins (Stenella attenuata), and Spinner dolphins (Stenella longirostris). Other REA activities included hands-on training of the survey team in all facets of the survey and additional standardized data collection on non-cetaceans, seabird biodiversity, and observations on threats including marine debris fields, fisheries interactions with cetaceans and commercial shipping activities.

In 2016, the REA survey confirmed the Banda Sea as the end-point destination for a population of Blue whales, which migrate from the Southern Ocean off Australia to Indonesian waters via the migratory passages of the Lesser Sundas and Timor-Leste. This year, the Ceram Sea has been confirmed as an important extension of this critical habitat.

Furthermore, the Manipa Strait (between Ceram and Buru Island) has also been identified as a migration corridor of regional importance to marine conservation. After the survey, CTC and APEX Environmental will conduct several technical workshops and capacity building activities in Bali and Maluku with emphasis on the field training techniques, skills for marine
monitoring teams, as well as the conservation and management skills for decision makers and policy development.

The survey’s outcomes and recommendations will assist the Maluku government with the development on a provincial network of Marine Protected Areas.

[Photo credit:Benjamin Kahn]

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