A Cuvier’s beaked whale stranded in Rarotonga, the Cook Island, 17 July 2007. Photo credit, Nan Hauser.
By Edward Tavanavanua, journalism student at USP
4 December 2013, Suva Fiji - Oceania’s first stranding online database for whales, dolphins, and porpoises will be launched at the 9th Pacific Islands Conference on Nature Conservation and Protected Areas this week.
Stranding is the phenomenon in which these sea creatures, collectively known as cetaceans, are beached on the shore, either dead or alive, and are in need of rescue.
The website, http://www.apodstrandings.org/ to be launched is aimed at increasing and developing the local documentation of cetacean strandings throughout Oceania, said Mr. Michael Donoghue, SPREP’s adviser on threatened and migratory species.
"So far we've relied on environment staff or fisheries or NGOs to send in bits of paper," he said.
"This [website] enables a place that has got Internet access to report promptly, and we're hoping to get a lot more reports on whale and dolphin strandings."
The website would be a service for SPREP member countries and would help raise awareness in shoreline communities about the extent of strandings in the region.
Mr. Donoghue said a simple online form would be available on the website for stranding respondents to fill.
He said he was hopeful that the database, which could also be exported to Google Earth or other geographic information systems, would result in the collation of more photographic documentation.
On right Mr. Michael Donoghue, SPREP’s adviser on threatened and migratory species.
The database would be searchable, and this would facilitate ease of access to the information, Mr. Donoghue said. He added that the system would also encourage respondents to take skin samples of the stranded cetaceans.
However, he clarified that samples would only be processed if they were suspected to be from a rare or unknown species.
"It is on our agenda to try and organise a workshop next year that will talk about dealing with marine debris disentanglement and how to deal with stranded whales," he said.
An annual review of stranding records will be coordinated by the South Pacific Whale Research Consortium.
The development of the website has been supported by a Pew Marine Conservation Fellowship, through a Memorandum of Understanding between SPREP and the South Pacific Whale Research Consortium.
Edward Tavanavanua is a member of the Media Team providing coverage of the 9th Pacific Islands Conference on Nature Conservation and Protected Areas from 2 to 6 December in Suva, Fiji. This is a partnership between the Fiji National University (FNU), University of the South Pacific (USP), SPREP and Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) whereby a team of 10 journalism students are mentored by senior reporters as they cover the conference. This activity is funded by the Pacific Assistance Media Scheme (PACMAS).