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Museum Mile: The Directory

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Stalking sea mammals in Langkawi

Biologists are collecting information on cetaceans in Langkawi in a bid to know how best to strengthen them.

WHENEVER Langkawi is mentioned, it customarily conjures adult images of sandy beaches, rainforests, waterfalls, mangroves and duty-free shopping. Few visitors realize that a waters around Langkawi’s 104 islands are home to dolphins, porpoises and even whales.

As a sea biologist, Dr Louisa Ponnampalam hopes to lift recognition about sea mammals that live around Pulau Langkawi, Kedah

Marine biologist Dr Louisa Ponnampalam, co-founder of a MareCet Research Organisation that is concerned in sea reptile research, hopes that this will change and is operative tough to boost recognition and collect information about sea mammals in a island off Kedah.

“If we can do good investigate here in Langkawi, afterwards we can start to consider about starting identical investigate projects in places like Penang and Perak,” she says.

Last month, she conducted a week-long consult of sea mammals with volunteers and members of Langkawi Dolphin Research, a plan of MareCet. The organization derives a name from a Latin mare – definition sea – and a contraction of a word cetacean, that is a common noun for whales, dolphins and porpoises. As a name suggests, these are a animals that are a intent of Ponnampalam’s study.

“We’ve been doing this given 2010. The some-more information we collect, a some-more we will know about a habits of these mammals in their healthy environment. We can use this believe to know how best to strengthen them.”

Some of a information collected during a margin outing includes new information on a placement of sea mammals around Langkawi, including estimates of organization distance and a transformation and contentment of these groups. By comparing photos from prior margin trips, Ponnampalam has shown that some particular humpback dolphins seem to cite certain sites around Langkawi, while others tend to pierce around a archipelago a bit more.

When asked because a organization chose to concentration on Langkawi, she replies: “We had already listened of utterly a few sightings in Langkawi, so we knew there were sea mammals here, though there was no arguable information to contend accurately how many and of what species. Since Langkawi is one of Malaysia’s tip tourism destinations, we felt it critical to know a dynamics of how land-based and water-based tellurian activities might be inspiring a animals and their sea environment. The fact that Langkawi is simply permitted compared to a islands on a easterly seashore of a peninsula creates a difference, too.”

As good as spending time during sea looking for cetaceans, members of MareCet are also actively concerned in substantiating a discourse with internal fishermen who are also an critical source of first-hand information about a participation and poise of sea mammals. MareCet provides discipline to them on protected fishing practices, utterly a forms of nets and hooks to be used to equivocate injuring or murdering sea mammals. Their website also provides recommendation for tourism operators, that embody not permitting anyone to feed, hold or float with a animals.

Living her dream

Ponnampalam is a energetic immature lady who clearly has a loyalty and expostulate required for her selected career.

“This is what I’ve always wanted to do,” she says. “I am vital my dream. When we was 13, we told everybody that we would go to Hawaii and investigate to turn a sea biologist and that we would set adult my possess investigate trickery behind in Malaysia. we haven’t utterly achieved a second partial yet, though MareCet is a starting point.”

Dr Louisa Ponnampalam estimate a dugong skull

Although she complicated in Hawaii and Scotland and did investigate for her PhD in Oman, she always designed on returning to Malaysia. “I adore to travel, though Malaysia is my home. And a sea mammals here are vagrant to be studied. Marine biology is still unequivocally immature in Malaysia. Compared to other countries, there is still a lot to do here. That creates it sparkling to be a sea biologist in Malaysia. In a way, we are pioneers.”

During final month’s survey, a organization sighted Indo-Pacific finless porpoises, Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins, Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins and Bryde’s whales around Langkawi as good as Irrawaddy dolphins tighten to Kuala Perlis. Group sizes for a dolphins and porpoises ranged from one to 150 people though for whales, usually one or dual were seen during a time.

I was propitious adequate to be invited to join a consult organisation on dual of their margin trips. Both days, we set off before 7am and did not get behind until 10pm. Most of that time was spent out on a water.

“It’s a existence check for some of a immature students who are deliberation a career in sea biology,” says Ponnampalam. “My friends say, ‘Oh, you’re so propitious to go out on a boat’ though they don’t see a prolonged hours we put in. Not everybody is willing, or able, to spend time in such simple conditions, or eat peanut butter sandwiches any day,” she says with a laugh.

Most of her days on house are spent in a high chair that reminds me of a tennis umpire’s chair. From that vantage point, there is a larger margin of vision, though it is burdensome to keep examination a waves for any pointer of transformation in a water. Every call and shade creates we consternation if something is there.

The initial morning, after hardly half an hour out of Kuah harbour, we mark something. The vessel idles to a halt. The overpower toll in my ears after a engine cuts out is shortly transposed by a dash of waves opposite a fibreglass carcass of a boat.

“Indo-Pacific finless porpoise – three, presumably five,” calls out Ponnampalam from her perch, looking by a span of binoculars. This information is remarkable down, along with a GPS coordinates. Visibility and call bloat tallness according to a Beaufort scale are jotted down as good and we take measurements of depth, H2O temperature, salinity, turn of dissolved oxygen and a participation of any other boats in a vicinity. All this tender information will be fed into a mechanism during a finish of a day and will yield Ponnampalam with copiousness of work during her post in a Institute of Ocean and Earth Sciences in Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur.

“We’ve seen vast groups of Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins during this outing and they seem to include especially of mother-calf pairs, maybe a plan of ‘safety in numbers’. We also celebrated unequivocally high-energy amicable and passionate activity in a groups of humpback dolphins that we encountered.”

Helpful technology

This year, another vessel has assimilated in a survey. Dr Satoko Kimura of Nagoya University in Japan is an acoustics dilettante conducting investigate on freshwater ?nless porpoises found in a Yangtze River in China and has come to Langkawi to serve her research.

“We are unequivocally propitious that she can join us on this margin trip,” says Ponnampalam. “It’s a initial time that we are regulating acoustic methods to investigate dolphins in Malaysia.”

I join Kimura’s vessel in a afternoon. The skipper is a exhausted fisherman who spends his nights fishing for squid. we assistance Kimura keep him awake, though spasmodic he falls defunct and a vessel steers extravagantly off course. Her vessel travels some-more solemnly than a lead vessel and trails a prolonged wire with specifically designed microphones attached.

“Dolphins and porpoises make sounds all a time,” says Kimura. “If there is bad visibility, they use sounds to let any other know where they are. They promulgate in unequivocally high-frequency sounds that humans can't hear. We can hear 16-20 hertz though Yangtze finless porpoises can hear adult to 125 hertz.”

There are dual NBHF (Narrow-Band High-Frequency) units on a cable, any with dual microphones. Analysing a sounds by triangulation can give a accurate plcae of a reptile and, in a tiny group, give an thought of a series of people present. This information will after be compared to Ponnampalam’s visible sightings.

“Maybe she can see dual or 3 dolphins though a acoustic readings can infrequently uncover that there were some-more people next a surface. This gives us some-more accurate data,” says Kimura.

Other than a few porpoises in a morning, we don’t see anything else for a rest of a day. The solid tranquil sound of a vessel engine and a rocking of a waves collaborate to peace me to sleep. we arise to find that a breeze has picked up. White crests are zipping opposite a peaks of a waves as a continue hovers between 3 and 4 on a Beaufort scale.

GPS coordinates have been pre-set and we follow invisible transect lines along a sea, trimming from roughly all a approach south to Pulau Payar, where fishing trawlers float only over a limit of a designated sea park, tighten to Kuala Perlis in a north, only a integrate of nautical miles bashful of a limit with Thailand. It is dim by a time we lapse to Kuah harbour.

Biggest fish

The following evening, Ponnampalam tells me that a organisation sighted 152 Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins. This was something we unequivocally wanted to see, so we assimilated a organisation again a following day in a hopes of sighting something similar. This time, a transect lines were shorter and ranged some-more to a south of Langkawi, trimming Pulau Tuba, Pulau Dayang Bunting and dozens of smaller islands with removed dull beaches and engaging stone formations. we detected tools of Langkawi that we had never seen before, good off a paths of a customary island-hopping tours that are so renouned with a island’s visitors.

I was travelling in Kimura’s boat. Ponnampalam and her organisation had reached a finish of a line and were watchful for us to arrive. Suddenly everybody was station adult and indicating during something in a water. we saw see a few ripples, though couldn’t tell what it was.

“A whale shark,” shouts Ponnampalam excitedly. we took from her feeling that this was something utterly exceptional.

Our boatman took us in a bit closer to a ripples, though we still couldn’t see anything solely a reflected glisten off a aspect of a water. Then unexpected it was there right beside a boat, hardly a metre underneath a surface. we was dumbfounded by a distance of it – roughly as prolonged as a vessel and some-more than large adequate to overturn us if it should so wish, though a whale shark seemed calm to let us admire a rows of star-like patterns on a behind and give us a time to snap a few photos. The whale shark is a world’s biggest fish and can magnitude adult to 14m. The quadruped we speckled is roughly half that size.

After a few minutes, it dived deeper and afterwards a aspect ripples seemed serve out. The boatmen incited their boats and we headed behind towards a categorical island.

“According to internal fishermen, they are found nearby Langkawi from Sep to February,” says Ponnampalam .

The following day, a MareCet organisation done dual some-more whale shark sightings in further to all a other information collected over a week.

Malaysia is a nautical republic and a fish-eating nation. It depends on a health of a waters to feed a race and say a fisheries. In sequence to strengthen a nautical assets, some-more has to be accepted about these formidable ecosystems and that requires dedicated researchers like Ponnampalam and her organisation and a comforts required to do their work.

“I wish that we can lift recognition of a significance of sea charge in Malaysia and that a work we are doing will someday materialize into a permanent investigate trickery here in Langkawi,” says Ponnampalam. – Marc de Faoite

Much of MareCet’s appropriation is now contingent on investigate grants from Australia and Universiti Malaya. To continue a research, it welcomes contributions, both financial and in kind, from people and corporations. Learn some-more about MareCet during marecet.org.


Map: Pulau Langkawi, Kedah

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