Scientists Find Whale, Dolphin Hot Spot Off East Timor

By Tara Ravens

DARWIN, Dec 31 AAP – Thousands of dolphins and whales have been
sighted in the deep waters off East Timor, with scientists hoping the
migratory corridor will jump-start the tiny country’s tourism sector.

The Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) has conducted the
country’s first major boat-based survey of cetaceans in a joint
project with the Timor-Leste government.

“The dolphins and small whales were literally jumping out of the
water all around us, it was hard to know which animal to photograph,”
said Timorese researcher Jose Monteiro.

Working on board a traditional 20-metre wooden Indonesian vessel, the
scientists were surprised to uncover a global hot spot of whale and
dolphin activity.

They identified about 10 species of cetaceans, including blue whales,
beaked whales, short-finned pilot whales, melon headed whales and six
species of dolphins.

In one day alone, more than 1,000 individuals in eight separate pods
were spotted over a 50-kilometre stretch of coast.

“This is among the highest level of cetacean abundance ever
recorded,” said principal scientist Karen Edyvane.

“We were all amazed to see such an abundance, diversity and density
of cetaceans.”

Prof Edyvane said the findings confirmed that the deep oceanic waters
off East Timor – along the Wetar and Ombai straits – were a major
migratory route for marine wildlife moving between the Pacific and
Indian oceans.

Celestino Barreto de Cunha, director of fisheries management within
East Timor’s Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, said the marine
hot spot could hold the key to the developing nation’s tourism industry.

“The government recognises the enormous potential for marine
ecotourism along its coast and will proceed very carefully in the
development of this industry,” he said.

“We are committed to ensuring that this marine biodiversity is
protected and we will continue to look to Australia to provide good
scientific advice on developing a sustainable marine ecotourism industry.”

AIMS project leader Dr Mark Meekan said ecotourism had become one of
the world’s fastest growing marine industries and could provide a
much needed boost to East Timor’s economy.

“There are absolutely huge numbers of cetaceans, that is whales and
dolphins,” he said.

“It is probably a global hot spot for biodiversity of these animals –
it’s really quite striking.”

——————————

Major cetacean hotspot found off E. Timor

JAKARTA, Dec. 31 (Kyodo News) — A major migratory corridor of
dolphins and whales has been found in the deep oceans off East Timor,
according to a media release on Wednesday.

Australian and East Timorese scientists have identified 10 species of
whales, including blue whales, beaked whales, short-finned pilot
whales and melon-headed whales, and six species of dolphins,
according to the release.

”This is among the highest level of cetacean abundance ever
recorded,” said principal scientist Karen Edyvane of the environment
department of Australia’s Northern Territory government.

”We were all amazed to see such an abundance, diversity and density
of cetaceans,” she said.

Edyvane said several cetologists had long believed that the deep
oceanic waters off Timor Island, along the Wetar and Ombai straits,
are a major migratory route between the Pacific and Indian oceans for
marine wildlife.

The survey was conducted by scientists of the Northern Territory’s
environment department, along with East Timor’s Agriculture and
Fisheries Ministry and the Australian Institute of Marine Science.

Project leader Mark Meekan said it was the first major boat-based
survey of cetaceans, following a six-month intensive aerial survey of
marine wildlife along East Timor coasts.

——————————————

Joyo Indonesia News Service

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