Monday, August 6, 2012

My 2006 masters thesis on Lamalera whale hunting

I did my Masters by research at the James Cook University in Australia from mid 2003 to late 2005. It was a rather painful journey; I enjoyed it, but not as much as I enjoyed my PhD life. But still, it was the first time I totally enveloped myself in research once more after about six years of dormancy. And I learned a lot from it, particularly about the use of social qualitative research. The 'funny' thing was, when I was doing my undergraduate study, I snorted (yes, snorted!) at students reading sociology and anthropology. But after working in WWF Indonesia for six years and did two years of masters (most of it based on social qualitative research), nowadays I cannot imagine my life without my better understanding of qualitative research.

Apologies; I digress. Anyway, my Masters thesis was on the traditional whale hunting in Lamalera and other sites in East Nusa Tenggara. It is titled 'Marine mammals in the Savu Sea (Indonesia): Indigenous knowledge, threat analysis and management options'. The following is the abstract; feel free to contact me for the full PDF, or click this link.
Mustika, P. L. K. 2006, Marine Mammals in Savu Sea (Indonesia): Indigenous Knowledge, Threat Analysis and Management Options (unpublished Masters thesis), James Cook University, Townsville.

The Savu Sea in the Province of East Nusa Tenggara is an important area for marine mammals in Indonesia, supporting at least 19 cetacean species as well as the dugong. The deep inter-island channels of the Savu Sea are sites of upwellings and other oceanographic processes which benefit marine mammal populations. Two traditional communities (Lamalera village on Lembata Island and Lamakera village on Solor Island) hunt whales in the Savu Sea, a practice which impacts on marine mammal populations but which is poorly documented. Through this research, I examine the current status of the whale hunting cultures in the Savu Sea as well as the social construction or perception of several stakeholders concerning traditional hunting practices. I also analyse other anthropogenic activities that might adversely impact on marine mammals in the region, and provide management options for marine mammal conservation in the Savu Sea and Indonesia in general.

To gain preliminary information in a relatively short period of time, I used a RRA (Rapid Rural Appraisal) approach. I conducted my research between May and December 2004, interviewing 60 informants from various places in Solor, Lembata, Alor and Rote Islands, as well as in Kupang (the capital of East Nusa Tenggara), Jakarta and Bandung (West Java). The nature of my research question resulted in qualitative data that I examined using thematic analysis and social construction theory. 

 I conclude that the whale hunting traditions in Lamalera (Lembata Island) and Lamakera (Solor Island) are subsistence whaling according to the IWC (International Whaling Commission) definition. This tradition appears not to be important anymore for the villagers of Lamakera. However, it is still a very important part of the cultural and spiritual identity of the Lamalera villagers. Although recently the whale catch has been relatively low, the Lamalera fishermen have compensated by increasing the catch of small cetaceans and other marine megafauna such as whale sharks, sunfish, manta rays, etc., confirming their high dependency on non-fish products. The preliminary nature of this research did not allow a calculation of the sustainable harvest level or PBR (Potential Biological Removal) of whale hunting in Lamalera thus this practice is still considered a threat to the local whale population. However, the research revealed that there are many other threats to marine mammals in the Savu Sea that should be considered when designing marine mammal management. These threats include IUU (illegal, unregulated and unreported) fishing, marine traffic, oil-gas exploration and exploitation, and commercial displays of marine mammals.

Several management options for marine mammals in Savu Sea are proposed.  Further investigation is recommended to fully understand the magnitude of each threat to the marine mammal populations, which in the end will affect traditional whale hunting in Lamalera.

This research offers insights into issues that could be included in the recently proposed government plan to establish the Solor-Alor Marine Protected Area. Alternative livelihoods for whale hunters and destructive fishers should be appropriately designed. Alternative fisheries to reduce the dependency of Lamalera villagers on marine megafauna products might also be a feasible option.

I recommend that Indonesia consider becoming a signatory to the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS). As an international body that facilitates the management of migratory species, CMS can assist Indonesia in management of and research into marine mammals, especially the species targeted by whale hunters. So far, Indonesia is an MOU signatory to the CMS. By becoming a CMS signatory, Indonesia is more likely to engage further collaboration with Australia and other countries that have been conducting extensive research on marine mammals.

Pic 1: The traditional whale hunters of Lamalera (@Mustika 2004)
Pic 2: The traditional weaving of Lamalera (@Mustika 2004)
Pic 3: An elderly lady weaving a cotton in Lamalera (@Mustika 2004)

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