Marine mammal scientists gather in New Zealand to discuss non-lethal whale research
Last week in Dunedin, New Zealand, some 1,200 attendees gathered for the Society of Marine Mammalogy biennial conference. The theme for this year’s conference was Marine Mammal Conservation: Science Making a Difference, which is certainly well-matched with IFAW’s own ethos.
The best of the best were present, with all the big names in whale, dolphin and seal research delivering daily presentations and posters describing the latest developments in scientific research around the globe.
Also on IFAW.org: From Dunedin to Aberdeen: Slaughtering Science or Making a Difference?
IFAW was represented at the conference from all corners of the world; our Whale Programme Director, Patrick Ramage and Strandings Coordinator, Brian Sharp both from IFAW headquarters in Cape Cod, Naoko Funahashi, the IFAW Japan representative and myself from the Oceania office.
During the conference, literally hundreds of talks were presented, including several on the plight of the Maui’s dolphin in New Zealand. The North Island cousin of the Hector’s dolphin, Maui’s dolphins are the world’s smallest dolphins, critically endangered and at serious risk of extinction. An estimated 55 individuals over 1 year in age remain and this largely due to a serious bycatch issue in their habitat.
We attended presentations on marine mammal disturbance from underwater noise during seismic testing and offshore construction and also a number of talks on ship strike. Many of these ship strike presentations also included detail about how speed limits and compliance with mitigation measures are helping to reduce whale deaths in key areas.
IFAW’s Patrick Ramage presented a talk on behalf of Dave Wiley from NOAA, which outlined the great success of the WhaleAlert app in reducing the risk of vessel collisions with whales and so increasing the protection of whales found along the East Coast of North America.
Whale entanglement and dolphin bycatch were also hot topics at this conference, with talks on the risks to another tiny dolphin; the vaquita in Mexico and also to river dolphins and seals around the world.
The 2012 IFAW Animal Action Research Award winner, Simon Allen from Murdoch University in Western Australia, gave an excellent presentation on dolphin capture and bycatch issues in the Pilbara trawl fishery, highlighting the urgent need to reduce bycatch within this vulnerable dolphin population.
In fact, it was Simon’s talk that saw him battle off a number of very worthy contenders for the first IFAW Marine Mammal Conservation and Animal Welfare Research Award. This award was given for the talk that contributed the most to conservation and animal welfare and the funds are to be spent in furthering the winner’s research on animal welfare and conservation of marine mammals.
In stark contrast to the science fiction of Japan’s scientific whaling program, ironically due to commence in the Southern Ocean in the coming weeks, the value of real science and studying living whales was certainly highlighted at this conference.
As always, it was clear that valuable scientific research of marine mammals can be carried out without harming animals. By addressing the threats to these animals and continuing their valuable work, these researchers are informing conservation and management decisions to better protect whales around the world.
So, in keeping with the conference theme, science really can make a difference to marine mammal conservation!