By Sophie Benbow, Marine Science Coordinator, Toliara, Madagascar
In total, 11 species of marine mammal have been sighted in the coastal waters around Madagascar. Of these, the most abundant and most frequently sighted are the humpback whales which visit Madagascar between June and September every year. Humpback whales spend the austral summer months feeding on plankton around the Antarctic, but as the winter sets in they begin a 4,500 km journey to reproduce in the warmer, shallower waters of the tropics.
They are sighted every year in Antongil Bay and around Ile St Marie on the NE coast of Madagascar. On 30th August 2010, the first humpback whale birth was observed in this area by an extremely lucky group of tourists on a whale watch cruise. This was a first for global cetacean science and quite a remarkable experience for all those on board!
CETAMADA is a relatively new NGO devoted to marine mammal conservation throughout Madagascar. They are developing a fluke database of all humpback whales sighted in Madagascar. Humpback whale flukes are unique to each individual just like finger prints are to a human, so by comparing photographs of the underside of flukes we can identify individuals within a population.
CETAMADA primarily focus on the top whale watching destinations of Isle St Marie and Antongil Bay on the East coast, but recently began to spread further afield by holding awareness raising workshops in Toliara, Antananarivo and Diego Suarez. Two Velondriake representatives attended the two day workshop held in Toliara on the 6th and 7th May 2011 along with a Blue Ventures staff member. A basic marine mammal biology lecture was presented and a lively discussion ensued as community members learnt some fun facts about cetaceans.
The second day began with a short field trip on a boat. This provided participants with an opportunity to use some of the technical equipment required for data collection, such as an underwater acoustic recorder, GPS and reticulated binoculars which allow an accurate measure of distance to be recorded. The final afternoon was used for roundtable discussions in breakout groups to assess the level of knowledge of the authorities, NGOs and local communities on marine mammals, and the easiest way to integrate participatory management of marine mammals into already established programmes.
It is hoped that the workshop allowed local community members to develop a greater understanding of the importance of marine mammals, and that during this coming whale season (June-September) sightings data can be collected from a number of locations along the southwest coast to contribute to the CETAMADA fluke database.
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