Under Threat: Vanishing dolphin species noted in Camarines Sur
By JONAS CABILES SOLTES
TINAMBAC, Camarines Sur --- Only about 7000 Irrawaddy dolphins are left all over the world and the University of the Philippines (UP) confirms that San Miguel Bay between the Camarines provinces harbors a subpopulation of these rare dolphins.
Some of these extremely rare dolphins, however, die after fishing gears, some of which are illegal, hurt them accidentally and it is possible that such incident is unreported so that authorities are not alerted—a situation that could wipe out the subpopulation of marine mammals in no time.
This is according to Professor Lemnuel V. Aragones PhD of the Institute of Environmental Science and Meteorology of the UP-Diliman. Dr. Aragones, also, is the President of Philippine Marine Mammal Stranding Network (PMMSN).
From October 21 to 24 this year, Dr. Aragones led the reconnaissance team that along with elements Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources and the Institute for Environmental Conservation and Research of Ateneo de Naga University had looked for proof of existence of the Irrawaddy dolphin in San Miguel Bay.
An incident last August 16, when an identified Irrawaddy dolphin was killed after being entangled in a fishing net in Calabanga, Camarines Sur, prompted the UP-led exploration, which included interviews with the locals.
Dr. Aragones said sightings of the critically endangered Irrawaddy dolphins in San Miguel Bay were few because the dolphins, possibly, were living in secluded waters in order to avoid human activities, the primary threat to their existence.
“But of course this is just an assumption that is why we need further study,” Aragones told Bicol Mail.
The PMMSN President said San Miguel Bay had all the ingredients for the rare species to survive and thrive but it must be ensured that the dolphins are protected and conserved.
Threats to the existence of Irrawaddy dolphins in San Miguel Bay are not limited to the situation of the bay, according to the UP scientist. “The good condition of rivers that drain into the bay must be considered also,” he said.
For almost a week, a reconnaissance team led by scientists from the University of the Philippines scoured the San Miguel Bay in search of the elusive Irrawaddy dolphin, a critically endagered species now confirmed to inhabit in Camarines Sur.
Irrawaddy dolphins are apex or top predators in the bay, he added, that “basically keep the undesirables under control.”
“They eat the weaker-bodied fishes. Thus, their continued presence ensures that fish stock in the bay are of good quality. This include the crab, not just species such as anchovies,” he further said.
The UP team believes that it is never too late to conserve the rare dolphins.
However, there is a need for “intense’ political will if one of the world’s rarest species would be allowed to flourish in the bay, according to Dr. Aragones.
San Miguel Bay, a fishing ground between Camarines Norte and Camarines Sur, is one of only three marine areas in the Philippines where Irrawaddy dolphins survive under threat of extinction.
The dolphins also make home in Malampaya Sound off Palawan province and in the seas between Panay and Negros islands.
Both the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Philippines’ Department of Environment and Natural Resources list Irrawaddy dolphin as critically endangered species
The worldwide number of Irrawaddy dolphins has dwindled by more than half since sixty years ago, according to the IUCN.
Aside from entanglement in “non-selective fishing nets,” the primary causes of decline of the dolphins include overfishing and habitat destruction.