Malaysia: Climate change can affect whales

New Straits Times 5 Aug 12;

KOTA KINABALU: Climate change may be causing a whale of a problem in the global arena.

Such change may cause ocean acidification resulting in whale stranding, notes Universiti Malaysia Sabah's Borneo Marine Research Institute director, Prof Dr Saleem Mustafa.

Stressing the need for more empirical data to establish it, he said: "There are compelling reasons on how ocean acidification, directly and indirectly, will affect whales.

"Altered oceanographic conditions too, will adversely affect whales. Collectively, the climate change effects will put stress on the whales, threaten their resilience, drive them to unfamiliar geographical areas and affect their navigational ability.

"Obviously, we might, unfortunately, see more cases of whale stranding around the world," he said yesteryday.

Saleem was commenting on the death of a whale on Thursday night, after it was stranded in the shallow coastal waters of Hujung Sungai near Kuala Penyu, near here. Bernama

Institute to study why whales beach on Sabah shores
The Star 6 Aug 12;

KOTA KINABALU: The Borneo Marine Research Institute is studying why whales have been beaching in the western shores of Sabah of late.

“Is it because they were ill or had strayed from other whales in the pod due to failure of their natural sonar system?” asked Dr John Madin, a lecturer and researcher with the centre at Universiti Malaysia Sabah here.

Dr Madin said whales usually migrate around sub-tropical and tropical waters in the South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean.

“It used to be uncommon for them to enter Sabah’s shallower coastal waters.

“But this year alone we have had two cases,” he said, referring to the beaching of a 15.8m whale at Kuala Penyu on Thursday and a dead whale found on Pulau Mengalum in February. Since 2006, at least five whales have beached in west coast Sabah.

Dr Madin said they wanted to identify which particular species of whales were prone to be stranded.

Commenting on the recent whale beaching, he said the centre believed the stranded mammal at Kuala Penyu was a Brydes whales.

“The one on Pulau Mengalum might have been a Baleen whale.

“The whale could have been sick. Fisheries staff and firemen tried to guide it back into the deep sea but it did not attempt to swim.

UMS to tackle beached whales
Kristy Inus New Straits Times 8 Aug 12;

MARINE MAMMAL RESCUE: Sabah has highest number of cases, task force to develop SOP to deal with problem

KOTA KINABALU: UNIVERSITI Malaysia Sabah marine scientists will form a task force to assist related agencies in handling cases involving beached whales.

The university's Borneo Marine Research Institute (BMRI) director Prof Dr Saleem Mustafa said the possibility of whale beaching incidents in the state was likely to see an increase because of climate changes.

He said Sabah was known to have the most incidents involving stranded whale cases in the country based on studies as early as the 1970s.

BMRI will lead the task force initiative to be better prepared to face such situations, said Saleem.

The institute will also hold a meeting with various agencies to develop a standard operating procedure (SOP) in dealing with stranded marine mammals.

UMS came out with the task force and SOP following the latest incident of a stranded whale in Kuala Penyu on Aug 2. The mammal died after 12 hours of being stranded despite attempts by various agencies and locals to help it return to the waters.

Measuring 15.8m and weighing more than 10 tonnes, it was stranded on the beach at the mouth of Sungai Setompok. The carcass was towed to a nearby jetty the next day for burial.

Dr John Madin, who leads the UMS research team for this case, said they were conducting a DNA analysis to identify the whale species. The results are expected to be out in a month's time.

He said while they believed it was a Bryde's whale from the Baleen family, there were still uncertainties and claims reported online that the mammal was one of the other species.

"As the identification and taxonomic status of the whale is currently unclear and possibly confused with other species in the Balaenopteridae family, tissue samples will have to be processed at the Institute's Microbiology and Fish Disease Laboratory."

Madin also said external examination of the whale showed recovering wounds and many blisters on the dead whale, which could possibly be because of past injuries and long exposure to sunlight.

"The whale also appeared emaciated. With these observations and the fact that it was unable to swim despite efforts to pull it to deeper water during the rescue effort, we believe the main cause of it being stranded was due to an unknown illness.

"However, other factors such as extreme weakness and old age could not be ruled out," Madin said, adding that they could not determine the exact age of the whale except that it was not young.