June 07, 2010 by dyertrust

Whales, dolphins, seals and dugongs were on the agenda at the1st African Marine Mammal Colloquium (AMMC)held in Gansbaai (18-21 May, 2010). Jointly hosted by the Mammal Research Institute (MRI) of the University of Pretoria and the Dyer Island Conservation Trust (DICT) at the Great White House in Kleinbaai.

Participants hailed from South Africa, Namibia, Mauritius, Kenya, and Zanzibar. Of the fifty delegates were researchers, students, government officials, and tourism operators. Well known names included Prof. Peter Best andProf.Elissa Cameron (MRI), Mr Mike Meyer (Oceans & Coastspreviously Marine & Coastal Management), Dr Ken Findlay (University of Cape Town) and Dr.Vic Cockcroft (Director of the Centre for Dolphin Studies-Plettenberg Bay).

Each delegate was required to present their research or an overview of their organisation, and presentations comprised a wide range of topics from dolphin behavioural ecology to southern right whale diet composition. Although challenges in conservation varied from region to region, the solutions followed the same theme greater collaboration and support required from local authorities. Workshops included issues such as eco-tourism, coordination of data collection and sharing in SA, mark-recapture (photo-ID studies) and acoustics.

In order to start thinking about regional research and conservation priorities, the impacts that humans have on marine mammals and their habitat were highlighted. Areas of concern are oil and gas prospecting and production, commercial and artisanal bycatch, directed fishing, habitat degradation, coastal development, tourism, noise and environmental pollution and climate change (which may, or may not, be a negative effect).

There was shared concerns regarding uncontrolled eco-tourism in some African countries where there are regional challenges e.g. more than 25 whale safari boats observing one small group of dolphins. There was a common agreement that there must be a balance between human impact and sustainable tourism. The way New Zealand manages whale safaris was agreed to be a strong role model.

A message that was repeated time and time again during the colloquium was a need for further cooperation and collaboration between groups. The South African research community outlined the data and samples currently in storage.

The International Whaling Commission (IWC) has called for alternative methods to those currently used by Japan in their scientific hunting of whales in the Antarctic oceans. The Australian government has sponsored this research and thus a programme called theSouthern Oceans Research Project (SORP)has been set up and was presented at the colloquium. Herman Oosthuizen of Oceans & Coasts is the South African representative at IWCs meeting (end May/June).

The meeting was such a success that everyone agreed it should be held at least everytwo years, possibly extending the invitation to further afield. Its a great way to promote the area and the week was rounded off with boat trips and the appearance of two southern right whales just past Dyer Island, added Wilfred. The delegates also enjoyed a shark cage diving experience on boardShark Fever, the Trusts eco-tourism partner.

Click herefor abstracts.