Sunday, December 16, 2012

Indonesia will have a marine mammal stranding SOP

Trying to save a whale

On Friday, 14 December 2012, the Ministry of Marine and Fisheries Affairs (MMAF) held a meeting in Jakarta to discuss the Standard Operating Procedure to handle stranded marine mammals across Indonesia. Among the attendants were representatives of several divisions under the MMAF, the Indonesian Institute of Science (LIPI), WWF Indonesia, Jakarta Animal Aid Network (JAAN) and Conservation International Indonesia (that was me). The meeting was actually the third meeting to discuss the SOP, so when I arrived, I was already presented with the latest draft. 

We agreed to limit the discussion on the SOP outline. The SOP will be printed as a book (in Indonesian), distributed to various places in the Archipelago, particularly where stranding events often occurred. We eventually agreed upon the following outline: 

Chapter 1: Introduction, including a brief review of stranding event theories and a simple way to determine whether the stranded animal is a marine mammal (mainly cetaceans) or other megafauna (particularly whale sharks)

Chapter 2: how to handle disoriented marine mammals (i.e., the animals are not yet stranded, but already lost/locked in a bay or another water body)

Chapter 3: how to handle alive, stranded marine mammals (including what data to take during rescue)

Chapter 4: how to handle dead, stranded marine mammals (including what data to take and post mortem investigation)

Chapter 5: a list of contact persons and departments for rapid action

Chapter 6: Monitoring and reporting

In the last decade, several marine mammal stranding network initiatives have actually been established in Indonesia. The first one I know was the Bali marine mammal stranding network, established by WWF Indonesia, The Nature Conservancy and APEX Environmental in 2002 (I was working with WWF and was cooperating with Benjamin Kahn in this initiative). This network slumbered for a few years before being reactivated in early 2011. Then in mid 2012, the Indonesia Marine Mammal Rescue (IM2R) was formed in Jakarta (MMAF and JAAN were the main initiators). I personally see that the many stranding networks in Indonesia as good, as long as the stakeholders keep updating each other. I think the government (in this case the MMAF) should be at the helm. However, if the government chooses to, it can delegate an NGO or other institution as the coordinator.

Low survival rate of the animals during stranding is a typical concern for Indonesia, in addition to the difficulties in species identification.  Participants agreed that several trainings must be conducted next year, including training on post-mortem investigation.

Dr Danielle Kreb (RASI Foundation) expressed another concern per email: the SOP should include freshwater dolphin, because this group of cetaceans has different stranding habits than their marine counterparts. For a start, the Irrawaddy dolphins (‘pesut Mahakam’) in East Kalimantan often got lost into paddy fields, which would require a different rescue strategy altogether. 

JAAN gave a nice report (with pictures) of a recent sperm whale skeleton reconstruction they conducted earlier this December. The sperm whale stranded at the northern coast of West Java on 26 July 2012. JAAN organised so that the carcass was sunk in Seribu Island (18 m depth) in the hope that the skeleton would be ready for display in two years’ time. However, it seems that a Varanus had been feasting on the whale carcass, such that the skeleton was cleaned in three month. The JAAN team then excavated the skeleton in early December. The skeleton will be displayed for public in early 2013, venue TBA.

I gave a brief introduction of the Indonesia whale stranding website initiative. The website is still under construction. The current address is; but it will be moved to a more memory-friendly domain by early 2013. We debated whether to relocate the website under MMAF, but we eventually agreed that it was more practical to leave it as it is, and have it linked to the MMAF website.

The meeting was officially closed by Dr Toni Ruchimat, the Director of the Conservation of Areas and Fish Species (‘fish’ here is defined as any organism living in the water). Dr Ruchimat explained that this SOP initiative began last October after a mass stranding event of almost 50 short-finned pilot whales in East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia. The MMAF received many queries, particularly whether Indonesia had an SOP on marine mammal stranding already (the answer of which was ‘no’). 

The institution responsible to coordinate the rescue effort is also problematic due to the authority overlap between the MMAF and the Ministry of Forestry. Many parties have suggested that the MMAF takes over this responsibility; and I think MMAF is thinking about that. However, Dr Ruchimat also emphasized the importance of rapid action in the event of stranding.  During the first few hours of a stranding event, rapid action is more important than pondering about who should lead the effort. That debate should be reserved for later.

Dr Ruchimat also explained that his directorate has assigned a special, tactical budget posting for marine mammal stranding events of 2013 onwards. It’s a relief to learn about it, for funding is always a big issue in many rescue efforts in the country.

What’s next? Well, we’re waiting for MMAF to finish the 4th draft and circulate it amongst the meeting participants. They hope to publish the SOP by early January 2013; I daresay it’s a gigantic task in the face of year-end holidays. Fingers crossed, and will keep you all updated. 

Note 27 Jan 2013:

The whale stranding online database website is already launched. The address is Please visit and like us!

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