It was still dark when I was on my way to the jetty, I was going to spend the day with the researchers of MareCet on a boat. A team of experts and volunteers were set for a day of monitoring #dolphins around the 99 islands of Langkawi.
In the 5 years I have been diving at Langkawi Scuba, I have seen dolphins many times and when I got curious about them, I contacted MareCet, an NGO dedicated to the study and conservation of marine mammals in Malaysia. When I found their website www.marecet.org and Facebook page Langkawi Dolphin Research, I quickly realized that 1. my own photography skills are zero when it comes to dolphins but also 2. that there is a lot to learn about them.
We started our boat tour in the mangroves of Langkawi and after a short introduction where I was explained what to look for, the observers sat on the bow of the boat in the sun for the rest of the 9 hours. Going a slow speed we tried spotting a head, fin, back or tail in the choppy water. When the sun was getting higher during the morning, it was hard to spot anything in the glittering waves. But finally we saw the Indo-Pacific finless porpoises.
These very elusive marine mammals are sometimes spotted during our dive trips in Langkawi. We can’t get close because usually, as soon as they know through echolocation, that our boat is there, they dive and stay down.
These small mammals grow only up to around 1.8m. We might only see a (finless) back out of the water, looking like a floating car tire or a piece of driftwood or coconut.
But sometimes we are lucky, like this day, and we can see them interact, hunt, splash their face on the surface before diving down. We saw a mother swimming with a calf and tails coming out of the water, and we spent an amazing 40 minutes just watching these animals play near the mangroves.
While I was watching, the others were busy making notes on location, behavior, group size, markings, their dive times and also taking depth and salinity measurements. Remarks were written down when there was any human activity in the area; boat traffic, electrical wiring/water pipes, fishing, watersports. And photos were taken as well (I will have to work on that a bit, all credit for these amazing photos goes to MareCet).
The main goal for the day was to spot the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin. This dolphin gets more pink in its skin pigmentation the older it gets, they usually live in waters not deeper than 20m, close to our shores. Unfortunately we were not in the right spot at the right time that day but when we get to see these dolphins during our dive trips or sometimes even from shore at Cenang beach, we can see them move coordinated in their group, travelling in the same direction. Sometimes only 5-10 individuals but other times 30 or more. It is so tempting to jump in and have a swim with them!
But we have to remember, these dolphins and porpoises are classified as endangered species, what do they have to gain by us jumping in the water with them? We should be helping them, learn about them. What is it that threatens their existence? Should we change our behavior, protect their environment, change local, national and international policies?
And this is exactly what MareCet aims to do: through research they gain knowledge, which they can then use to transfer knowledge to kids, adults and local governments, and advocate and consult for new policies to be put in place to protect these mammals.
Thank you, MareCet, for a great day. I have learned to love and respect these animals even more!
And what can you do to help?
Refuse, Reduce, Recycle! Start small; refuse straws and plastic bags, join Trash Hero and pick up some rubbish from a beach or your neighborhood park so that it wont end up in the rivers and oceans.
Join the new social media challenge: #trashtag
Of course Langkawi Scuba will report any sighting of the porpoise or dolphins to Marecet through the reporting form on the website to contribute to their research, and you can do the same. We will continue with beach clean-ups in Langkawi and remove fishing-nets from the divesites. And we reduce plastic waste by serving our snacks on the divetrips from Tupperware boxes and the filtered drinking water from reusable flasks.