MANILA, Philippines – Two pygmy sperm whales were killed off the coast of Siargao Island, Surigao del Norte, allegedly due to dynamite fishing.
The body of a pgymy sperm whale calf and its injured mother were found by locals on Friday, March 21, off the coast of Dapa, a town in the island. They were brought to Dapa by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR).
The mother died on Sunday morning. Their bodies have been put in ice for a necropsy on April 1.
Though only two whales were retrieved from the sea, locals say at least 22 more were killed by a single dynamite fishing activity.
“The carcasses of the others, we don’t know where they are but today we will look for them. Apparently, the 22 whales were killed by the same activity on the same day,” said Gianni Grifoni, a marine biologist who also owns a dive resort in Siargao Island.
He was among those who brought the two whales to shore.
He told Rappler the dynamite fishing happened off the coast of Dapa and Union.
Despite the declaration of the entire Siargao Island and its surrounding waters as a protected area, dynamite fishing remains prevalent.
Fishermen who use this illegal method of fishing are usually small-scale fishermen from the island’s towns – Dapa, General Luna, Daku Island, Casulian Island and San Miguel Island.
The government is working to apprehend those responsible for the dynamite fishing.
“The incident is now being investigated by both the BFAR and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources,” Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) chief Theresa Mundita Lim told Rappler in a text message.
“We are checking if the area [of the dynamite fishing] is within the Siargao Island Protected Landscape and Seascape so we can also file a case for violating protected area laws.”
They are also trying to verify if more whales were killed, aside from the two already found.
Dynamite fishing, which involves the use of explosives to stun and instantly kill fish, is often used by fishermen looking for an easier and faster way of catching fish.
“The fish get stupefied. They die and then they just float to the surface. The fishermen’s nets are ready to scoop them out of the water,” Nilda Baling, OIC Director of the BMB Coastal Protected Management division told Rappler.
The explosives are usually improvised. They are commonly plastic bottles filled with explosive nitrate and diesel.
But Baling says it’s unusual for dynamite fishing to target pygmy sperm whales, which often travel in groups of 6 or 7.
It’s possible that bigger capitalists, perhaps even foreign ones, are funding the fishermen.
The terrestrial, wetland and marine areas of Siargao were declared a protected area in 1996 through a Presidential Proclamation. It is the largest marine protected area in the country, encompassing more than 216,000 hectares.
It is home to many rare flora and fauna including the hawksbill turtle, dugong, bottlenose dolphin, Spinner dolphin, saltwater crocodile and more.
Pygmy sperm whales (Kogia breviceps) belong to the sperm whale family which is classified as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
They are called “pygmy” because of their small size, around the same size as dolphins. They grow to only around 11.5 feet (3.5 meters) compared to the sperm whale’s average length of 52 feet (16 meters). They are often found in tropical or temperate waters in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans.
The presence of these small whales are important for maintaining balance in such a unique marine ecosystem as Siargao’s.
“Pygmy sperm whales are an indicator of a healthy marine environment. If you can still see them it means there is still food, the habitat is there, there is an abundance of fish,” said Baling. – Rappler.com