The state of cetaceans in kuwait waters

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Mysteries and negligence: The state of cetaceans in kuwait waters
Bohadi.Y
Overview:
Many are the marine mammal species that can be found inshore and throughout the local
waters of Kuwait. These range from finless proposes, to dolphins such as the common dolphin,
bottlenose dolphin, killer whales, to baleen whales, such as bryde's whales and blue whales.
Most of these animals show seasonal appearances, or accidentally find themselves trapped in
the Arabian/Persian gulf area, and end up washing on shore. One species however has made
the waters of Kuwait it’s home on both the northern and southern parts of the Kuwaiti shores.
Image 1 shows the general areas in which the animals were sighted. And (Nithyanandan 2010)
explains that the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin is
an animal that has shown consistent presence in
these waters all year around. They also suggest
that these animals exhibit seasonal migrations
between the northern and southern grounds
annually.
Other than a handful of such scientific
documentation, much of the opinions and
advancements in this field here in Kuwait are
lacking due to the absence of a general authority
on the matter, or are correct in their own right but
were conceived pre-maturely due to haste
in presenting a word for the press.
Such cases proving this claim present
themselves irregularly in the form of
Image 1: An outline map of Kuwait. The red arrows
show where the sightings of the Indo-Pacific
humpback dolphin have occurred. The red asterisk
shows Failaka island.
stranding animals across the Kuwaiti
shores.
Listed below are records from the local papers of such incidents in the past 2 years. Each report
shows the facts documented and the different responses that were in the form of
environmentalists’s accusations and attempts from public authorities to asses the situation. For
each incident listed is also an attempt to examine the evidence presented scientifically and
prove of disprove the claims and/or responses. It is important to mention that the official and
group responses and ideas do not reflect the opinions of every individual involved with these
circles or outside them. It is simply the general perception the author perceived after examining
the cases. Many individual efforts are in fact very well balanced and can change things greatly if
practiced on a wider level.
1. 2 dolphin stranding incidents: In the north and south (April 16th 2013)
Many are the myths surrounding the local dolphin populations in Kuwait, and one in particular
states that there are no local dolphin populations at all here. This prevailing idea leads locals as
well as authority figures to be stunned at the sight of these animals. And that reaction is even
greater if that animal is found in a bad state.
Image 2: Upper part shows 2 shots taken of part of the animal’s body.
The lower part shows 2 citizens burying the carcass. (Image from Alaan
newspaper website)
That summarizes the base on which a report from one local newspaper on the matter regarding
the 2 separate standings found a few days apart from each other in separate locations was
done. The environmentalists group Green Line voiced their thoughts on the matter through that
newspaper and accused the government of polluting the coastal area causing these deaths.
Image 2 shows the state in which one of the animals was found in and how an amateur diver
and a another citizen dealt with the carcass.
Even though the photos taken weren’t according to the photo ID standards, it is suggested
based on the image 2 that the animal is likely to be an Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin. Although
the amateur shots taken are a clear indicator, the lower part of image 2 sheds more light on a
the pressing matter that needed addressing: the lack of a specialized team to deal with such an
incident. The absence of such a team can be viewed on more than one level, one is the
statement of the environmentalists group the Green Line to the local paper that this signifies a
pollution tragedy. Such a claim is far from being legitimate without supporting it with viable proof,
and a dead marine mammal alone is never a sign. Such deaths may be caused due to a variety
of reasons. The presented case and photos may suggest that, due to the small size of the
animal (adult animal length averages around 2 meters), it was still a juvenile, and the cause of
death may be due to separation from it’s pod, for any number of causes. The lack of a
specialized team can be noticed also in the fact that there aren’t samples to help further
determine the cause of death, and in the manner in which the animal was dealt with, without
checking it’s age or other demographic information.
The claims made by the environmentalists group aren’t from thin air, on the contrary, they arise
from experiencing a similar scenario back in 2002. Image 3 shows the symptom of the
pollutants dumped on wild life.
Image 3: Part of the massive fish kill that occurred in 2002 due
to the lack of restrictions on factories dealing with their industrial
byproducts.
In the case of the 2 dolphin standings however, there were no fish found on sight. And nor there
were any reports of dolphins washed ashore during the fish kill in 2002. For the general
audience, this can suggest that what killed the fish isn’t the same as what killed the dolphins,
and thus further investigation is in order. Haste however in getting the news across and through
platforms might have aided in overlooking such an obvious fact. Another myth also plays into
effect here, and that is the idea that dolphins are fish. And so even if there aren’t any smaller
fish on the sight, the fact that there are dead “fish” on the beach means that what killed the fish
in 2002 is very likely the same thing that is killing these larger “fish” now, if not ever more
dangerous.
In the end, the lack of a specialized authority on this matter is apparent, from the public’s
perception to the actions taken by the authorities on the matter, which was not mentioned in the
report partly due to it almost not existing at the time. A team capable of providing solutions to
any stranding case as well as documenting the incident correctly, and also capable of working
on changing the public’s perception about these animals, is needed.
The following report will shed light on a more serious response from the authorities and how
they plan to deal with future incidents of the same nature.
2. 6 dolphins stranded across the coast (March 7th 2014):
Similar reactions to the previous incident were perceived for this incident initially. Concerns were
raised again due to fear of an oil leakage being the cause of death for the animals found. Image
4 shows one of the dead animals. Points to be considered here are also the ones raised by the
interviewed officials at the time, and one being that the deaths may not be associated with an oil
leakage, as image 4 clearly shows the dead animal trapped in a fishing net. This view was
adopted in response to the typical public backlash and accusations of irresponsible toxic
disposal when news of these deaths came to light. Wether or not entanglement was the cause
of death is hard to determine from any preliminary examination. The animal(s) needed to be
examined more closely to accurately determine the cause of death.
Image 4: One of the stranded animals found. The species cannot be identified from these
simple fact stating photos. Even among these 2 photos the species might be different.
Signs of anthropogenic damage are clear, and were strongly considered to be the cause
of death. (Image from Al-Watan newspaper website)
In the following 2 days, 3 other animals were found. Giving a total of 9 animals found dead in
the past 2 weeks. Concerning that matter different interviews were conducted and published on
March 9th 2014.
Most opinions ruled out a death caused by an oil leakage. As some of the carcasses were taken
in for further examination, and that in turn proved the animals being clean of any toxic
substance.
Thoughts shifted to anthropogenic causes, as another animal clearly suffered a head injury,
which is thought to be it’s cause of death.
Each animals is it’s own case, that much was evident as different marine scientists looked more
into the matter and officials gave different reasons explaining the deaths of the animals.
Opinions suggested that most died due to a number of reasons; being trapped on shallow areas
during low tide. Being weak due to infection and getting washed ashore. Being trapped in fishing
nets. Losing their sense of direction. And being hit by shipping vessels.
Much of the speculations regarding the deaths of these animals were only speculations at best.
The formation of a specialized team, and not the occasional investigative fisheries expert, to
tackle any future incidents proved imperative. Especially since the ‘Failaka Whale’ that was
found stranded on February of the same year.
Image 5: One of the dead cetaceans on the left, and efforts to
transport another for examination on the right.
3. The Failaka whale (sighting at Feb. 28th 2014)
Gone were the accusations accompanying such findings. In the general public, not many
believed that a 14 meter animal would die from pollution before the the smaller, weaker ones.
The incident received great attention, throughout the general and social media. civilians were
posing and taking videos before the carcass. Image 6 is one of the rarest images of the animal
without human presence.
Such a strange
occurrence happened
only twice before. Once in
the 60s when a blue
whale was found dead, it’s
skeleton rests now in the
national museum. And the
carcass of the dead
animal had already
decayed by the time
anyone caught wind of it
in the second incident.
Many officials stated that
although there isn’t
Image 6: The dead baleen whale found on Failaka island. Reports went
from calling it a Blue whale, to Sei whale. Then un-publicly determining it to
be a Bryde’s whale, based laboratory identification. (Photo from Al-Watan
newspaper website)
anything to be done for
the whale now, it is still considered a valuable biological sample, and it’s skeleton will be
preserved next to the blue whale’s in the museum.
A puzzle is knowing the reason behind the animal’s death, and presence in these waters. What
can be the driving cause behind such a phenomenon? Any number of explanations can be
presented to explain why the animal ended up dead on Failaka island, much like the ones seen
in the case of the 9 dead dolphins found a month later in march. A long term scientific study is
needed to analyze the different elements comprising the Persian/Arabian gulf and discern any
patterns. A specialized team stationed on key observation points dedicated to solving this puzzle
is needed.
At the time of the incident, movement on a grander national level was witnessed, and scientists
were presenting arguments and theories, much to the delight of any observer concerned for the
marine wild life.
That burst of scientific and national activity was indeed a leading factor in helping to take hold of
the other dolphin incidents that followed in March. Teams were more aware and maybe eager to
tackle the next animal death correctly.
Regarding the Failaka whale incident however, another citizen reported in a comment to a
newspaper coverage on the matter that there was another smaller whale also found dead on the
coast of the main land at the same period. And that he was willing to share photos with any
interested party. Not much coverage can be found on the other dead animal. And it is not even
clear if Image 7 is or isn’t a link to the incident mentioned by the citizen. But the date of posting
that image came 2 days after that comment was posted. Also, it should be noted that the story
coverage under image 7 was for the Failaka whale. That maybe another case of the
misconception that ‘Haste beats Waste’.
At first, people started calling the Failaka whale a blue whale, based on the general shape and
size, but without any scientific support. However as the news spread about the animal, more
Image 7: The whale that was found dead supposedly around the
same time the Failaka whale was. The ventral fin’s shape and size
suggests that it is a Humpback whale. No further reports were found
regarding this animal. (Photo from Al-Hayat newspaper website)
opinions chimed in on the proposed species of the animal, with the author leaning towards it
being a Sei whale at the time. That opinion was due to an observation in 2009, where a marine
mammal was sighted traveling in the area. That observation was thought to have a legitimate
link to the Failaka whale, but with no means of tracking or constantly monitoring that animal
since 2009, it can hardly be considered proof.
By the end of 2014, it was apparent to the team examining the samples taken from the Failaka
whale that the animal was a Bryde’s whale. News however of the update did not seem to reach
the general public from the closed hallways connecting specialized labs to high officials. The
reason might be due to it not having a strong impact as the first news of the discovery of a dead
whale. Maybe it was old news by then. However the authorities and small number of specialists
could also benefit from being included under a wider global umbrella that can help in further
explaining and digging deeper into the mystery of the lost whales and dead dolphins. The desire
to have a controlled feedback and advancement system might have trumped the benefits of
somewhat crowdsourcing the effort by announcing the findings in the same manner of the initial
breaking news.
4. The latest whale sightings and the latest debate (Oct. 2014)
The future of this matter still remains unclear. It can be argued that the perception of this matter
shifted from one type of negligence to another. The first being not caring for these occurrences,
and the other is being picky about what to release and how to process the findings.
This leaves the public and people associated or interested in the matter not having a clear idea
on what or where should action take place. Meaning that any future sightings can illicit the same
reaction over and over again without moving forward and benefiting from the clues present in
each case. That means giving a public front that shows concern, but concealing a core that isn’t
taking any real steps to address that concern, or is taking steps in it’s own leisure. And so the
reactions of the public will vary depending on their own opinions, and people might choose to
bury the dead animal, or to pose and take photos and videos with it.
Image 8 shows the latest whale sighting, which was covered and reported at the time in a
similar report to this
written one. With no
clear initiative to
handle the cetacean
mystery, negligence
can always translate
itself to ignorance,
when action is
required. A form of
such a scenario can
be seen when an
Image 8: The latest mystery whale sighted in
Kuwait on Oct. 2014
official was asked on the matter, they replied that the whale is believed to be a ‘boots whale’. It
is not believed that such a name is used for any cetacean, be it a scientific name or common
name. Part of the public awareness effort should also be to introduce the correct Arabic
nomenclature for these animals, as the name ‘boots whale’ seems to have originated from a
false pronunciation of an English name. This was clarified after a text interview with the official.
It should also be noted that the source in the interview was very happy to have the information
regarding the animals sighting shared through a small report titled Sei whales in the Arabian/
Persian gulf written by the author on Nov. 6th 2014. Online article can be found in the
references section.
Lastly, the real step here is to form a research team for a long term scientific study to analyze
the different elements comprising the area and discern any patterns. A specialized team
stationed on key observation points dedicated to solving this puzzle is also needed. An effort to
change the public’s perception and eliminate any myths surrounding these animals is also
needed, from providing correct terms to giving clear instructions on what to do when an animal
is sighted dead or in danger. It should be noted that such a step has partially been taken when
an official once cited a hotline to call in case of a cetacean emergency during the 9 dolphins
incidents.
The future of these animals in Kuwait can shift depending on the actions of the people. Wether
they take a real step to solve the negligence dilemma before attempting to solve that of the
animals or not is up to them.
References:
- Nithyanandan, M. (2010). Opportunistic sightings of Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin , Sousa
chinensis from Kuwait waters with notes on their behaviour, (1993).
- The Dolphin Report — Sei whales in the Arabian/Persian gulf. (n.d.). Retrieved January 30,
2015, from http://ybohadi.tumblr.com/post/109470855363/sei-whales-in-the-arabian-persiangulf
- ‫حوت املحيط الهندي نفق في فيلكا | جريدة القبس‬. (n.d.). Retrieved January 28, 2015, from http://
www.alqabas.com.kw/node/843540
- ‫ نفوق الدالفني على شواطيء الكويت‬/‫بالصور‬. (n.d.). Retrieved January 28, 2015, from http://
www.alaan.cc/pagedetails.asp?nid=139093&cid=30
- ‫ أنجفة والفنطاس وميناء عبداهلل وجون الكويت‬R‫ دالفني على شواط‬6 ‫نفوق‬. (n.d.). Retrieved January 28, 2015,
from http://alwatan.kuwait.tt/articledetails.aspx?Id=342391
- ‫الكائنات البحرية النافقة لغز ينتظر الحل | جريدة األنباء الكويتية‬. (n.d.). Retrieved January 28, 2015, from
http://www.alanba.com.kw/ar/kuwait-news/451152/09-03-2014
- ‫هيئة البيئة الكويتية مستمرة في حجب املعلومات والتعدي على حقوق االنسان‬. (n.d.). Retrieved January 28,
2015, from http://www.greenline.com.kw/ArticleDetails.aspx?tp=183
- 25/10/2014 - ‫ الصحة‬- ‫ فريق الغوص يرصد ثالثة حيتان عمالقة في جون الكويت‬: ‫كونا‬. (n.d.). Retrieved
January 28, 2015, from http://www.kuna.net.kw/ArticleDetails.aspx?id=2404426&language=ar
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