Cetacean Society International

Whales Alive! - Vol. XI No. 3 - July 2002

Report From Peru

CSI is grateful to Marie-Françoise Van Bressem, DVM, PhD, for sending us a progress report and some pictures of a project supported in part by CSI members for several years. We hope that you agree that the Peruvian Centre for Cetacean Research deserves continuing support, and continues to be a role model for similar projects. In the introduction to her report, "Continuation Of A Long-Term Environmental Education Project In Peru: A Blueprint For The Conservation Of Aquatic Wildlife," Dr. Van Bressem says:

Over the last two decades at least three dolphin species and the Burmeister's porpoise have suffered unsustainable levels of mortality in Peruvian coastal fisheries. Despite legal decrees dating back to 1990 and the law N° 26585 emitted in April 1996, prohibiting the capture and processing of small cetaceans as well as the commercialization of their meat, these animals are still exploited. Though consumption of cetacean meat has no doubt decreased and awareness among the general public has noticeably improved, complacency would be vastly misplaced. Indications are that fishermen have learned to use both meat and blubber as bait in the shark fisheries.

Operating since 1984 from Pucusana, volunteer-staffed CEPEC is dedicated to the conservation of dolphins, porpoises and whales and their habitat in Pacific South America, particularly Peru, and pursues this goal through scientific monitoring of the catch of small cetaceans, scientific research and education. Our efforts resulted inter alia in legislation protecting small cetaceans in Peru. To increase the interest and awareness of local people about protected marine species and to emphasise the need for sustainable use of aquatic resources, CEPEC has developed a long-term environmental education programme in the period 1993-2000 with the support of the Belgian Agency for Development Cooperation (AGCD), Gesellschaft zum Schutz der Meeressaugetiere, Cetacean Society International, Columbus Zoo and Idea Wild, and backed with uncountable CEPEC volunteer efforts. Prime target groups are fishermen's communities from the central and northern Peruvian coast, government authorities responsible for the enforcement of the laws protecting endangered species, and to communities of the Ucayali region (Peruvian Amazon). Empirical feedback shows that at least individual children develop an intense, genuine interest for marine animals and care for the sea, which could be permanent. Dolphins, penguins, sea lions and sea turtles due to their powerful appeal act as ideal "ambassador species" for marine conservation.

The Peruvian Centre for Cetacean Research
Photo courtesy Marie-Françoise Van Bressem

Museum of Marine Fauna: Central to the programme has been CEPEC's "Museum of Marine Fauna" first set up in Pucusana in September 1997. Till mid-2001 it was basically a tiny makeshift exhibition (for lack of funding), but nonetheless quickly recognised by Pucusana municipality as of great interest to the visiting tourist and sign boards were set up. It offers a rare opportunity to Peruvians for a closer look at conservation biology of cetaceans and other aquatic animals. The occasional visitor turned into hundreds and then thousands; now some 2,500 persons, most of these children, have registered as visitors, but many hundreds more attended without being entered in the books. The museum invariably received high marks from young and old, as enthusiastic CEPEC guides were said to ensure memorable visits. In mid-2001, construction was started to build a totally new, bigger exhibition hall at CEPEC premises to better present the study collection (see photo).

Fishermen communities: Children from fishers' communities and Lima were the principal target public of CEPEC's education programme, because they represent the next generation of fishermen. Environmental talks and creative marine workshops were carried out in primary and secondary schools from several fishing towns. Special emphasis was put on dolphins, porpoises and marine turtles, which still needlessly die in fishing operations in disturbingly high numbers.

Government authorities: We presented a series of talks to coastal and fluvial (i.e. Pucallpa) port authorities, as well as to the Ecological Police (a specialized branch of Peru's National Police). This programme of seminars was meant to improve awareness and knowledge of protected aquatic animals among officials charged with enforcement of natural resource conservation.

Communities of the Ucayali region: In 1998-2000, CEPEC expanded its environmental education programme to school children, teachers, boat drivers and authorities of Pucallpa, Yarina and San Francisco, in Ucayali Region (Peruvian Amazon), areas inhabited by botos (Inia geoffrensis) and tucuxis (Sotalia fluviatilis).

CEPEC's environmental programme has been very well received by all social groups. An increased interest in the conservation of marine wildlife was noted among children from the fishing towns more frequently visited. The programme of seminars to government authorities has enhanced their awareness and knowledge of protected aquatic animals and has helped establish cooperative links between parties concerned. Nevertheless, the definitive key to success of this programme relies on its continuity, especially in schools, at least for several more years.

In 2001 with the support of the Gesellschaft zum Schutz der Meeressaugetiere (GSM) and Cetacean Society International (CSI) as well as own resources, CEPEC has continued its education programme at the fishing towns of Pucusana, Cerro Azul and Chancay and opened a new museum of cetaceans and other marine fauna.

For more information contact CSI or Marie-Françoise Van Bressem, DVM, PhD, Centro Peruano De Estudios Cetologicos (CEPEC), Peruvian Centre for Cetacean Research, Jorge Chávez 302, Pucusana, Lima-20, PERU. Email: cepec.dir@terra.com.pe

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