Cetacean Society International

Whales Alive! - Vol. XII No. 1 - January 2003

CSI Helping People Who Help Cetaceans

Cristina Castro of Quito, Ecuador won an IBM ThinkPad 385ED laptop computer that had been donated through CSI by Board Member Deb Adams. Cristina had distinguished herself as the very best student presenting work at the major Latin American marine mammal scientific conference, held in October in Chile. An enthusiastic committee of the conference's leaders, all friends to CSI, and all but one previous recipients of CSI grants, chose her above all others.

The more we learn about her work the happier we are. Young scientists in Ecuador face many problems, and modern computers generally are far beyond their reach. This computer will replace laborious paper records of observations and measurements from her project to monitor and improve the five-year-old commercial whale watching operations from June through September in Machalilla National Park.

Her team uses a borrowed survey theodolite from a station on La Plata Island to make basic studies of the humpbacks themselves, document the interactions of humpback whales to whale watch vessels, and demonstrate to operators what boat techniques work best with minimal impact. As ecotourism becomes more significant to the region's economy, this project will help match tourist expectations with minimal harassment. The many measurements that must be analyzed will be short work for the computer, and software will help her communicate the results to officials and whale watch operators. The projects' ultimate objective is to help to develop a management concept for the humpback whales in the Machalilla National Park, and by default, perhaps the rest of Ecuador.

Another of her papers, "The Conservation Status of Cetaceans in Ecuador", gives a sophisticated national history and update, including whaling, whale watching, and many conservation issues and solutions. In addition her team has created "a great program of environmental education, with marionettes, disguises and books about Elena the humpback whale". CSI will be pleased to loan this material (in Spanish) to anyone who wants to see some of what is being done in Ecuador.

Cristina is highly motivated. She works hard to motivate children. She remembers "the magic of seeing my first dolphin jumping outside of the water, or hearing the humpback's song", which transformed her life. Through education and science she protects and conserves the creatures she loves, and changes the lives of the children she reaches. Can you see why we're so pleased that she won the computer?

María del Valle Fathala, Cecilia Calió and Jimena Belgrano shared a $1,000 CSI grant to attend October's 10th South American Conference on Aquatic Mammals (10RT) / 4th Meeting of the Latin American Society for Aquatic Mammals (SOLAMAC). CSI also helped ten others to attend this significant biennial meeting.

Maria and Cecilia at the 10RT in Chile

Maria del Valle Fathala and Cecilia Calió of Fundación Cethus
present their research on Peale's dolphin at the 10RT, Chile.

In this photo Maria and Cecilia stand before one of their presentations, "Preliminary observations of Peale's dolphin (Lagenorhynchus australis) in the north coast of Puerto San Julián, Province of Santa Cruz, Argentina". The other was "Sightings and strandings of southern right whales (Eubalaena australis) in Santa Cruz coast, Patagonia Argentina (1986-2002)". Maria's project will end soon, having identified movements, group composition, habitat preferences, and behaviors of the local population near La Mina, a Natural Province Reserve of the San Julián Peninsula. Her long-term goals are to identify and follow individuals to understand their lives, and to verify the potential of land-based dolphin watching.

All adventurous eco-tourists take note: if this little known species can be seen fairly reliably from the shore of a protected area of natural beauty and significance, wouldn't you want to go there? The Peale's dolphin may become economically significant to the region, as an excellent example of a concept we have promoted for decades, the benign utilization of cetacean resources.

Maria, Cecilia and Jimena reported that the Conference consisted of three days of presentations divided into oral and poster sessions. Specialists from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Uruguay, Peru, Ecuador, Mexico, the USA and the UK discussed the biology, ecology and conservational problems of cetaceans, pinnipeds, manatees and sea otters. Some of the subjects included: population analysis, acoustics, habitat use, behavior, genetics and conservation issues like fishery interactions and whale watching. A workshop discussed the region's migratory species, suggested solutions to various problems, and updated the conservational status information of the migratory species. "The participation in this 10RT was a new and very useful experience for us. We must thank CSI and board members because, without their financial support, it would not have been possible" to attend.

Adriana Acosta's research on river dolphins and people on the Colombian Amazon is an excellent example of the kind of work CSI supports, from our belief in someone's future, and that the research will make a difference. Adriana studied the effects of boats on the freshwater dolphins, the Boto Inia geoffrensis and Tucuxi Sotalia fluviatilis, during the low water period at Puerto Nariño, a town at the confluence of rivers on the Colombian Amazon. She also evaluated dolphin responses to eco-tourism boats, and worked with boat drivers and tourist guides on a Conservation and Management Strategy, including guidelines for responsible eco-tourism in the area.

Why? Because river dolphins often live near human populations, and their endangered status is generally worsening. Both dolphin species have been listed on Appendix I of CITES since 1982. In this region they suffer from boat traffic, habitat degradation, overfishing, direct killing for meat, oil and aphrodisiacs, poisoning by fishers who think of the dolphins as competitors, dredging, pollution and contamination. Despite a growing will to do something there is little time to act, and management and political solutions demand objective information. Who better to provide it than a trained local whose future will help many marine mammals in her country?

Adriana's research quantified dolphin reactions to the three types of boats, canoes, "peque-peque" (canoes with outboards), and larger outboard motor boats. Boat traffic is essential, but the area is critical for dolphin feeding and nursing. While canoes had little effect, boats with motors usually caused the dolphins to evade by congregating in deeper water, with changes in surface activity. Most events displaced the dolphins from feeding, and perhaps from significant nursing and resting. Such short-term impacts are cumulative, but the constant stress on the dolphins' immune systems may affect long-term health. Although expected intuitively, without the data the possibility of solutions would be impossible. We have great faith in Adriana's future.


Tucuxi (Sotalia fluviatilis)
Photo from CSI's Photo Gallery
Courtesy Fundación Omacha, Colombia


Boto (Inia geoffrensis)
Photo from CSI's Photo Gallery
Courtesy Fundación Omacha, Colombia

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