Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Say hi to Lovina's less crowded neighbour: Bondalem and Tejakula

Fraser's dolphins off Bondalem in March'12

When I was doing my PhD in Lovina, I was invited to a talk at the local Rotary Club Chapter. They were excited to learn what I was doing there; but I was more excited to learn about totally new information (at least to me) from an expatriate lady who came all the way from Tejakula (in eastern Buleleng Regency). The lady told me that she and her friends never bothered to go to Lovina for dolphin watching because they had a better alternative: Apparently, they have dolphins too in Tejakula!

I was excited and curious about the presence of another dolphin population in Buleleng, just 50km eastward of Lovina. But I never got to go there. I just never made time. 

Anyway, when I was already working at Conservation International (well, still is), I had several meetings with government officers of Buleleng about Bali MPA Network (more about this in another post, perhaps). There, I gave a presentation on the results of my PhD. To my surprise, a guy came to see me afterwards and said that he often saw dolphins off Bondalem Village in Tejakula (east Buleleng)! This guy (Mr Gede Mertha) is the local fisheries extension officer, by the way, a very nice guy. 

So it was true, the dolphins do exist in east Buleleng! I’m not saying that the lady I met in Rotary Club was lying... it was just difficult for me to comprehend that there exists another dolphin population nearby, yet remained unexplored. This time around, I made up my mind to come and visit Tejakula and see the dolphins with my own eyes. 

A bit of Buleleng 101: Tejakula is the name of a district (kecamatan) within the Regency (Kabupaten) of Buleleng. Tejakula has many coastal villages; one of them is Bondalem where the emerging dolphin watching tourism is happening. To make it more complicated, there is also a village called ‘Tejakula’, within the District of Tejakula. This village is just eastward of Bondalem Village; they are literally neighbours. To reduce confusion, I will always make sure whether I talk about the village or the district whenever I write ‘Tejakula’.

Anyway, my first visit happened on 7 March 2012. I went with one of my CI colleagues, a friend from Reef Check Indonesia and the fisheries extension officer. We departed before dawn from Bondalem Village northwards. It took us about 30 minutes before we found our dolphins. At 6:45am, I took my first photograph. The dolphins were Fraser’s dolphins (Lagenodelphis hosei), about 50 of them, some with calves. They were not travelling. Instead, they were milling, and I suspected some feeding activities too. At 6:50, I saw some ‘black fish’ nearby, possibly short-finned pilot whales, but I wasn’t so sure. The black fish seemed to be travelling slowly. We stayed with the Fraser’s dolphins which seemed to do a mixture of milling and resting. We went back to the shore at around 7:15ish after the perfect encounter.

My second visit to Tejakula happened just last weekend on 24 November 2012. I went with Pak Gede Mertha, two Reef Check Indonesia staff and another friend of mine. We left the port of Tejakula Village at about 5:35am (and we were late! The sun was already rising!). We hung around the waters off Tejakula Village for a while until I decided that we should go westward to Bondalem, to where we found the Fraser’s dolphins last March. My boat captain almost gave up, actually. He already steered the boat towards the coast even before we reached Bondalem. But I said, no way. We should go seawards, not shorewards. We won’t see anything if we keep going ashore. 

And apparently, the Dolphin Goddess relented and granted my wish. After a while, around 7:15 (which was 1 hour 40 minutes after we departed), my boat captain saw the first splashes waaaay on the horizon. I didn’t see it; my eyes were not yet adjusted to finding dolphins over the horizon. But I eventually saw them, and there they were: splashes. Not waves, not fish: multiple splashes. Aaaand Ladies and Gents: we truly found the dolphins!

Short-finned pilot whales off Bondalem and Tejakula Villages, Nov'12

I think we saw three species of cetaceans last Saturday: Globicephala macrorhynchus (short-finned pilot whales), Lagenodelphis hosei (Fraser’s dolphins) and Stenella attenuata (pan-tropical spotted dolphins).  GM were resting, just moving slightly southeasterly as they rest. I never saw GM resting before, so it was an interesting experience. Heck, I never saw alive GM in situ, period! We had about 17 to 21 GM, divided into two schools. We had some bulls in the pod; I saw at least two. The largest would be around 5-6m length. 

Fraser’s dolphins seemed to be feeding when we saw them, combined with slowly traveling eastwards. I saw about 60 of them, some with calves. These Fraser’s were definitely not travelling the way spinner dolphins and Fraser’s dolphins travelled in Lovina. I would say that the Fraser’s were milling instead of travelling. 

Fraser's dolphins off Bondalem and Tejakula Villages, Nov'12

I suspect the last species, which was about 2-3 of them with straight tall dorsal fins and some spots, was pan-tropical spotted dolphins (Stenella attenuata). They were larger than Fraser’s, smaller than GM. We never found spotted dolphins in a large pod in Lovina (a maximum of five was the size that I saw in 2008), so I think it fits the possibility. But since I thought that the spots might be just water splashing, I was also thinking of pygmy killer whale (Feresa attenuata) which also has a straight dorsal fin. However, my Shirihai and Jarrett (2006) identification book mentions that the maximum length of FA is 2.6 m, so I think spotted dolphins were more appropriate. 

We started to return to Tejakula at 8:10 and arrived at 9:15. Quite a long ride, speed was about 3 knots. But I was happy, my friends were happy, we got nice shots (and video), so no problem with that. 

I should also say that I only saw, like, five dolphin watching boats this time around (and about the same number or even less in March). The Bondalem/Tejakula dolphin watching tourism is definitely not taking off yet, and it's a good thing for us, for we can start planning and managing the industry in a much more sustainable manner than Lovina. Just like Lovina, the whole Tejakula District is now a designated Marine Protected Area, thus a sustainable dolphin watching tourism management plan is a must for the MPA to be declared by the Minister of Marine and Fisheries Affairs.

I haven’t found spinner dolphins so far in Tejakula, but since the fishermen/dolphin boatmen there kept saying they saw ‘those dolphins with long snout’, I think it’s just a matter of time before we eventually meet.


Shirihai, H. & Jarrett, B. 2006, Whales, Dolphins and Seals, A&C Black London.


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