The International Dolphin Day is celebrated annually every September 12 and it was created a year ago by Sea Shepherd, a non-profit, marine conservation activism organization based in Washington in the United States, to mark the one year anniversary of the largest slaughter of cetaceans (whales and dolphins) in recorded history which took place in Faroe Islands resulting to 1,428 dolphin deaths and the event is a reminder that the remaining dolphins in the world should have protection.
As part of the global action, Mangrove Matters PH, a youth-led conservation group, and Earth Island Institute, an international organization that promotes awareness and protection of marine mammals in the Philippines, call for the greater protection of the Irrawaddy Dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris) subpopulation in Iloilo and Guimaras Straits, which include the coastal areas of the provinces of Iloilo, Guimaras, and Negros Occidental. This facultative freshwater species can be found in the coast and estuaries in India and Southeast Asia including the Philippines. In the country, there are three
(3) subpopulations and these are in Malampaya Sound and Municipality of Quezon in Palawan and in the Iloilo-Guimaras Straits. However, there is a new record of Irrawaddy Dolphin sighting in the Bicol region.
Scientists, with the help of local communities, discovered the Irrawaddies of Negros Occidental in 2010. Since then, numerous studies have been carried out regarding their population, habitat, and surrounding communities. As early as 2014, conservation and management plans have been drawn up by scientists and researchers identifying the steps to fully protect the last remaining Irrawaddies in the Iloilo-Guimaras Straits.
Trixie Concepcion, the Regional Director for Asia Pacific of Earth Island Institute highlights the need of protection of the Irrawaddy Dolphins in Iloilo-Guimaras Straits and these are at risk of extinction.“In 2018, the Irrawaddy dolphin Iloilo-Guimaras subpopulation was declared Critically Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) where an estimated 10-13 individuals remain. In the same year, the IUCN declared 340
square kilometers as Important Marine Mammal Area (IMMA) from Panay to
To date, there has been very little action in convening the management agencies and implementing the plans laid out by scientists to save the last remaining Irrawaddies of Negros. The dolphins continue to die on an average of one individual per year. For the last two years, three Irrawaddy dolphins have died, including a juvenile last 25 September 2020. Scientists estimate that there are only ten to thirteen individual Irrawaddy dolphins left in Negros Occidental. This kind of mortality rate is alarming given the very small number of Irrawaddies in Negros”, Concepcion said.
“There is a need to conserve dolphins as they perform important ecosystem services such as keeping fish populations in balance. The presence of dolphins also indicates a healthy environment as it would indicate the presence of fish. The extirpation of the Irrawaddys in the Iloilo and Guimaras is a huge loss for biodiversity and marine ecosystems in this area”, Concepcion added.
Matthew Vincent Tabilog, an early-career marine biologist and founder of Mangrove Matters PH, notes that the Irrawaddy Dolphins in the Iloilo and Guimaras Straits are threatened by the proposed Panay-Guimaras-Negros bridge which could lead to their subpopulation extinction and the youth should take part in campaign towards the protection of these dolphins.
“The Irrawaddy Dolphins are among the rarest and unique dolphins in the world. The construction of the proposed Panay-Guimaras-Negros (PGN) bridge would ultimately affect the Irrawaddy Dolphins since its construction would produce noise pollution and these dolphins use echolocation to forage and navigate themselves and such loud noises could lead them to stress and potentially death. Furthermore, many have not seen the Irrawaddy Dolphins because they are so rare to find one and will the next generations be able to see one if these will go extinct?”, Tabilog said.
“There were recent reports of dead Irrawaddy Dolphins in the coasts of Negros Occidental were mostly juvenile dolphins and the population can not sustain and increase if the young ones are the most vulnerable to death. The youth should be involved in this campaign because this generation will suffer the long-term impacts of environmental degradation and we do not want to see a precious dolphin species go to extinction just because of anthropogenic threats. We, the youth, should take up spaces in conservation and demand the government to protect our remaining thriving biodiversity”, Tabilog added.
Given the current situation of the Irrawaddy Dolphins found in the Iloilo-Guimaras Straits, there should be an urgency to protect the remaining population in Visayas from extinction. With the combined efforts of fisherfolk groups, scientists, communities, local and national governments, we may be able to preserve the gene pool of these rare dolphins and protect the biodiversity of Iloilo and Guimaras Straits.
This article is written for the International Dolphin Day by Mangrove Matters PH with Earth Island Institute
Image caption credits to Kimee Santiago; Photos by Mark de la Paz, Kaila Ledesma-Trebol, and Jozette Hisu-an via Negros Season of Culture