Dolphins frolicking in Singapore's backyard

David Ee The Straits Times AsiaOne 17 Nov 14;

Arguably the most beloved wildlife species in the world, dolphins can be found not just in Sentosa's theme parks but also off urban Singapore.

Wild dolphins are common in the country's congested southern waters, and have been since ancient times, said marine scientists. The trouble is, hardly anybody else knows they are there.

Their presence has gone almost completely unnoticed by the public, baffling scientists at the National University of Singapore's Tropical Marine Science Institute (TMSI), who are trying to raise people's interest and more funds for their work.

In sightings reported to TMSI, at least 169 dolphins were spotted between 2008 and 2011 in the waters between Singapore and Batam, near St John's Island and Pulau Semakau, and as close to shore as Marina Barrage.

At least another 50 were sighted in 2012 - the most recent year that records were kept before TMSI's work was cut short when the conservation fund of Wildlife Reserves Singapore, which runs attractions such as the Singapore Zoo, stopped funding a three-year study by TMSI.

The number of sightings last year and this year has largely remained the same, according to anecdotal reports from scientists.

Dolphins are most regularly spotted in the north-facing bay between St John's and Lazarus islands. The waters there are calm, even during monsoon rains, and there are fishes at the nearby coral reefs, said TMSI's Marine Mammal Research Laboratory head Elizabeth Taylor. She said this could be why the dolphins are attracted to the area, for rest and food, as they swim through the waters around Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia.

TMSI's Marine Biology and Ecology Lab head Tan Koh Siang said scientists at the institute's laboratory on St John's Island have regularly seen dolphins since 2002, when the lab was established.

Last week, a pod of five Indo-Pacific humpbacked dolphins, also known as pink dolphins, was seen in the waters there by scientists, who posted videos of them on Facebook.

"Even though they are common, for us seeing them in the wild is always exciting... It brings out your inner child and curiosity," said Dr Tan.

Pink dolphins are kept at Underwater World Singapore (UWS). They are the most commonly seen dolphin species in Singapore waters, followed by the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin. There are 23 of the latter species at Resorts World Sentosa (RWS).

In May, a dolphin at RWS died - the fourth death in four years. A dolphin in UWS' collection was reported last month to have skin cancer.

Singapore's wild dolphin population and range is unknown. But Dr Taylor said she is optimistic that their numbers are healthy as sightings of them are "greatly" under-reported. Also, sightings of groups of adult dolphins with calves are common. Dolphins are an apex predator, and this is an indication of the health of the marine environment, she said, as it means they have enough fish to eat.

Dr Lena Chan, director of National Parks Board's National Biodiversity Centre, said: "Indeed, the presence of an animal usually associated with pristine environments is an indication that even in our highly urbanised waters, biodiversity can exist."

Dr Taylor said she plans to use social media to spread the word about Singapore's dolphins.

TMSI also has plans to use drones and underwater listening devices from early next year to survey and track the dolphins round the clock, and is seeking funding for this. Those eager to see wild dolphins can camp overnight on St John's Island, said Dr Taylor, and look out for them at dawn and dusk.

Don't be surprised if you see a dolphin swimming in Singapore's waters
Straits Times 15 Nov 14;


Dolphins are regularly spotted in the north-facing bay between St John's and Lazarus islands. -- PHOTO: COURTESY OF CON FOLEY

SINGAPORE - Did you know that wild dolphins can be found in Singapore's very own backyard?

In sightings reported to the National University of Singapore's Tropical Marine Science Institute (TMSI), at least 169 dolphins were spotted between 2008 and 2011 in the waters between Singapore and Batam. The mammals are most regularly spotted in the north-facing bay between St John's and Lazarus islands.

Here are some of the different species of dolphins and other marine mammals found in Singapore's waters:

Indo-Pacific humpbacked dolphin, or pink dolphin

Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin sighted in the Straits of Singapore. -- PHOTO: COURTESY OF CON FOLEY

Species most commonly seen in Singapore's waters. They are born black, before turning pink as they grow up. Adults are white.

Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin

Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins sighted in the Straits of Singapore. -- PHOTO: COURTESY OF CON FOLEY

Second most commonly seen species in Singapore's waters. They have a dark grey back with a lighter grey belly.

Irrawaddy dolphin

Rare Irrawaddy dolphins spotted in the Mekong River in Cambodia. -- ST PHOTO: NIRMAL GHOSH

Finless porpoise

A photo of a finless porpoise taken in an unknown location. -- PHOTO: NUS

Dugong

A photo of a Dugong taken in an unknown location. -- PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER FILE

To report sightings of dolphins and other marine mammals, visit this website.

Promote eco-tourism in S'pore
Straits Times 19 Nov 14;

I READ with interest that dolphin sightings are common in our southern waters ("Dolphins frolicking in S'pore's backyard"; last Saturday).

Perhaps the Singapore Tourism Board can think of ways to promote our country as an eco-tourism hub, where visitors can learn more about our marine environment's biodiversity.

How about promoting dolphin-watching boat rides, or sunset tours to take in the sight of sea turtles, dugongs and otters in our waters?

To be sure, we have done an incredible job in creating world-class theme parks, gardens and aquariums, and this has transformed Singapore into a fun and entertaining destination.

But let us show a different facet of our island to tourists and Singaporeans.

Eco-tourism is a growing industry in neighbouring countries. Langkawi and Bali have mangrove forest tours, Australia has whale watching, and Vietnam has kayaking trips at its spectacular Halong Bay.

Let us think beyond man-made constructs and see how Singapore can be transformed into a place where nature is better appreciated.

Gabriel Chen Weijin

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