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    Posted May 10, 2014 by
    Siargao Island, Philippines
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    Dwarf sperm whales Die in Siargao


    Seas under Siege

    A mother dwarf sperm whale and her baby were stranded in the shores of Dapa, Surigao del Norte, Philippines. The 2.2 meter long, mother sperm whale had lacerations from its lower jaw down to her belly, while her calf bore stab wounds behind his right eye. The calf died the next day. The mother followed soon after that.

    Arjun Balderas looked out of the window of his hut in the coastal village of Kamaligan in Dapa and saw what looked like a pair of dolphins leaping in the shallow waters at a distance. When he took a closer look, he was alarmed to find that both mammals were severely wounded. Believing it to be a distress signal or a call for help, the 26 year old - security guard rushed to the scene and joined seven other men pull the animals out of the water and into a safety net.

    “The adult mammal, which probably weighed about 100 kg., had mutilations in the stomach and the calf had stab wounds at the back of its neck,” he recalled.

    Video footages showed the adult whale and her young, with bodies smeared with blood, being hauled into separate nets by several men and transported on a multi-cab to the pond at the D’Game recreation center in Dapa, the trade center of Siargao Island. At D’Game, some observers watched the distressed mother whale sink in the water while the calf would nudge her towards the surface and then both would glide placidly across the pond.


    The Philippine Marine Mammal Stranding Network or PMMSN later identified the mammals to be Dwarf sperm Whale (Kogla sima), one of three species in the sperm whale family. Besides the dugong, the Bottlenose dolphin, Killer whale and Bryde’s whale, the Dwarf sperm Whale is also listed in the Wildlife Conservation Society of the Philippines’ Red Data Book of Animals threatened with extinction.


    ‘We had been trying to rescue and treat the wounded whales but they died in a day or two. They were transferred from D’Game pool to the privately-owned Dapa Island Resort, which had its own saltwater pool. It was a less-stressful environment for the distressed mammals. We made a modified floater from a banana trunk to keep the mammals afloat. We injected the mother whale and her calf with antibiotics and monitored them regularly, day and night despite the strong winds and heavy rain at the time, brought about by Typhoon “Caloy”, under public storm signal no. 1, ‘ reported Dapa Community Environment & Natural Resources (CENR) Officer Iniego Collantes, Jr. who coordinated with respondents from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, Tourism Office and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in the rehabilitation, monitoring and treatment of the stranded marine animals.


    The calf died the next day while the ailing mother sperm whale died the day after that, “with so much blood flowing from her belly,” he said.

    The group conducted a necropsy with photo documentation to determine the cause of death of the mammals before they were buried.


    In a statement released by Dr. Leo Suarez of the Philippine Marine Mammal Stranding Network, he said the lungs of the adult (mother) dwarf sperm whales appear to be the major organ of concern that may have caused the stranding, and eventually the death of the animal.


    “The intestines and related blood vessels look very congested but this may be a post mortem change. Nothing can be concluded as to the cause of the animal’s death because the necropsy was done very roughly and no histopathology was conducted,” he noted, based on his observations on the photos of the necropsy done by Dapa CENRO personnel on the adult mammal.


    Collantes said they are conducting an investigation on the reported alleged dynamite fishing in Pansukian Reef in the surfing town of General Luna and in Barangay Union in Dapa. He said they’re also coordinating efforts with Governor Sol Matugas, Congressman Lalo Matugas and local government units of these municipalities to determine the culprit of these illegal fishing activities.


    Some local residents and fisher folk blame the tragedy on dynamite fishing which is rampant in Union and Giwan in Dapa. Aljun Balderas, one of the men who hauled the stranded dwarf sperm whales out of the shallows said the dynamite fishermen tried to finish them off with a bolo knife which explains the stab wounds sustained by the calf at the back of its neck.


    Last March, around eleven o’ clock in the morning, 24 year- old municipal fisher Sonny Sumalinog witnessed a blast fishing incident, just 15 meters away from where he was fishing in Kan-uyan, Dapa. He said there was no Bantay Dagat or fish warden around when it happened in broad daylight.

    Rolen Manggabon, 49, died last February 12, when the dynamite exploded in his hands. He was hurling the dynamite somewhere between the waters of Montserrat and Tabon-tabon in Dapa.

    “My mother had warned him to stop using dynamite because it was illegal and dangerous. He had already been apprehended in the past. He did stop for a while but that day he promised us it will be his last. The use of dynamite produces huge catches, which means food and income for a big family like ours. But an ordinary catch is barely enough for our daily subsistence,” says 21 -year old Mariel, the seventh of Manggabon’s twelve children.


    Some European tourist-scuba divers have also heard explosions during their dives in the surfing town of General Luna. According to Arnold Alcero of Dapa, his friend who works for a beach resort in General Luna reported another incident where a dead marine mammal washed ashore in the beach of Malinao around the same time of the stranding. He said it was buried there.


    These fishermen use dynamite, smiting a large number of fish, taking juvenile as well as adult breeding fish, and creating a hole up to 5 meters in diameter in the reef, destroying corals that took more than 30 years to grow, in just seconds.


    Researchers reported that 70% of coral reefs in the Philippines are degraded, 24 percent are in good condition, and only 5% are in excellent condition, no thanks to the use of dynamite and cyanide fishing, pollution, effects of coastal development, and the people’s thoughtless insensitivity to the environment.


    Coral reefs, like the rainforests, consume carbon dioxide and release oxygen. They harbor a dazzling diversity of marine life – shellfish, lion fish, sea anemones, sea slugs, groupers and sponges, etc. Up to 3,000 species may co-exist on a single reef, where the density of fishes can be 100 times greater than the ocean average. People today continue to depend on reefs for vital an essential protein source, lobsters and fish for the restaurant, trade and export market, souvenirs and ornamental products, building materials, tourism, diving and snorkeling, potential source of medicines and buffer for shorelines.


    Unfortunately, fishery resources are being harvested beyond their maximum sustainable yield and illegal fishers do it in ways that devastate marine habitats and make it impossible for the resource to replenish its stock.


    Fine mesh nets are catching many types of fishes (groupers, tunas) while they are still juvenile, schools of fish are being caught in large ring nets and purse seines before it is able to move or escape, spear- fishing catch mature fish needed for spawning, compressor-diving is depleting fish stocks, sewage and fertilizer runoff are polluting the seas, blast and cyanide fishing are killing corals and destroying precious reef habitats which has resulted in fish production losses of 159,000 metric tons a year. According to the Coastal Resource Management Project, overfishing of small and pelagic and demersal fishes is resulting in loss in catch of more than US$400 million per year.


    Although Siargao Island is designated as a protected landscape and seascape area, it is not safe from destructive human exploitation and environmental destruction.




    Video by R. Esparrago
    Photos: Robert Goulet

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