Saturday, April 08, 2006

Unregulated dolphins and whales tours have a negative effect on these marine mammals

UNREGULATED dolphin and whale watching tours, which prove to be very lucrative to fly by night operators now surface as the biggest and most immediate threat to the dolphins and cetaceans in Pamilacan, says an environment watch group, Eco-Nature.

This, and the unresolved issue of commercial fishing has pushed Pamilacan Island Dolphin and Whale Watching Organization (PIDWWO), Environmental Legal Assistance Center, Econature and other well meaning sponsors to convene the Dolphin Festival in May. This is to rally people behind the cause for the dolphins, says PIDWWO Chairman Leo Sumalpong in an interview recently.

The festival hopes to raise awareness on the roles of communities sharing the Pamilacan and Bohol Sea marine environment, the country's second area-specific marine biodiversity contender, Econature Project Development Officer Felisa Digdigan confirmed.

The Dolphin Festival also attempts to be a springboard to create advocacy to declare Pamilacan waters as a special sanctuary for dolphins and whales, she added.

"Declaring Pamilacan entails a lot of scientific study", says Digdigan who said that 13 of the country's 26 cetaceans are found in the waters surrounding the island. This is only next to Batanes Islands, she shared.

The festival hopes to rally the authorities to put up research stations and gather qualitative data in a bid to force legislators to act on the matter, organizers said.

Moreover, the festival dreams of being institutionalized to ensure habitat protection, they add.

Sighted and documented in Pamilacan are blue whales, sperm whales, brydes whale, melon headed whales, pilot whales, dwarf sperm whale and cuvier's whale. Also usually seen by tourists are spinner, spotted, rhissos, bottle-nosed, frasiers and rough-toothed dolphins.

In fact, this should help Bohol keep not just the smallest primate in the tarsier but also the largest of cetaceans in the blue whale, Digdigan stressed.

In Pamilacan Island, Baclayon Bohol, where for time immemorial, whale and dolphin hunting had been a livelihood, the option to finally lay down the "pilak" and go conservation's was rough sailing for the community.

Urged to lay down the pilak and preserve the island's unique marine habitat, the community was offered by the government and non-government organization whale and dolphin watching tours. This was hoped to fill the income gap left after banning whale hunting industry. This was also hoped to sustain the village from the deprivation of a tradition.

Lately however, untrained boatmen and tour operators from nearby communities in mainland Bohol have spoiled the fun for the island conservationists.

Practically sporting nothing but guts, untrained boat operators venture into the industry, offering cheap tours to guests and risking tourists lives and the danger of losing the acrobatics of dolphins finding the area friendly for them.

They just approach dolphins like they are racing, often chasing the marine mammals and risking dolphin's safety with their boat's propellers, said a dolphin and whale watching tour spotter who asked not to be identified.

The festival attempts to launch conservation allies of responsible whale and dolphin watch operators in the island, who shall serve as a management council drafting guidelines and overseeing the marine tour operations.

Quick "Facts about Dolphins"