The waters of Eastern Indonesia are a place for migration as well as stranding of marine mammals, such as whales and dugongs. Cases of stranding of marine mammals often occur in the waters of Papua and Maluku. In Merauke, for example, this year whales have been stranded twice, including on the coast of Komolom Village, Kimaam District, Merauke Regency, South Papua Province, which occurred four days ago.
Contacted by Mongabay Indonesia, Wednesday (9/8/2023), Prehadi, an employee of the Sorong Coastal and Marine Resources Management Workshop (PSPL), said that his party had difficulty evacuating stranded whales, which were suspected to be baleen whales in Komolom Village, due to the constraints that the stranded location was very far and remote. .
In addition, the handling process was also hampered due to limited telecommunication networks at the location of the stranded whales, making it difficult to communicate and coordinate with related parties, such as the Merauke KSDA Center and the surrounding community. Even the local BKSDA only found out about this incident after being contacted by the Sorong PSPL Loka.
“Currently we are gathering information. The stranded location is very far from settlements. Then the communication network is very limited,” said Prehadi.
He explained that the area around has a very wide tidal area. Even so, his party continues to make efforts to carry out the handling process, and one of the choices that will be made is to tether the whale in a stranded location so that it decomposes naturally.
The PSPL Loka in Sorong through the Merauke Working Unit is also going to the location where the whale was stranded to check the condition of the carcass. The location is indeed very far from the city center, so the whales have not been handled, examined morphometrically and identified their type, even though they already have data through the photos that have been sent.
Meanwhile, the Merauke KSDA Center who was contacted by Mongabay Indonesia, Thursday (10/8/2023) said they did not have the latest information regarding the stranded whale. They couldn’t even contact those in Mokolom because there was no telecommunications signal.
Norce Mote, Lecturer in the Department of Water Resources Management at Musamus University (Unmus) Merauke, said the whale was first found in the waters of Dow Island and is currently still in the Komolom area. Initially, he said, the whale swam across the water towards Dow Island and was spotted in the estuary.
Related to the causes of whale strandings, he said, in theory there are several causes such as microplastic pollution, being hit by fishing nets or being hunted by other animals (predators). It could also be due to climate change which has disrupted their habitat or migration areas.
Norce said further studies were needed, because it could be that the southern waters of South Papua are a migration route for whales. “Right now the issue of ghost fishing and microplastics is a major threat to marine mammals and other types of large whales,” he explained.
However, in the Arafura Sea, specifically for the Merauke region, there have not been many studies on this topic because apart from being scientific, it also requires a large amount of money. On the other hand, he continued, if this species is indeed protected, of course it cannot be eaten or traded.
The information he got, the community plans to open or dissect his stomach contents. But because it is too big, so it can not be done and left alone. “I can confirm that (whale) blood was seen scattered at the scene,” he said.
Likewise, the remains of fishermen’s damaged nets that are left in the ocean can trap and kill existing fish and marine animals. “There must be education for fishermen, and that is very important to prevent this from happening in the future,” he concluded.
Hard to Save Whale Stranded in Fak-Fak, What’s His Fate?
Mornings in the coastal village of Tunas Gain are not like ordinary mornings. That day, Tuesday, November 16 2021, villagers in East Fak-Fak District, Fak-Fak Regency, West Papua, were surprised by the presence of a whale stranded on white sand right in front of the village. One by one the residents came to see the stranded whales. At first, many suspected that the marine animal was a whale shark ( Rhincodon typus ).
Gain Abdul Rahim, a resident of Tunas Gain Village, when contacted by Mongabay, Thursday (18/11/2021), said that the whale was initially unknown to the local community in the village. Residents suspected that the whale had been stranded since 03.00 WIT in the morning, and it was only discovered at 07.00 WIT in the morning when the sea water was receding. They knew that the marine mammal had not died and was in a weak condition. It wasn’t long before residents contacted the authorities.
However, the helpless whale was used as an object for photographs, both children and adults. They even ride on the whale’s back. Their actions were shared on social media and spread quickly. But not long after, the upload was deleted.
Raden Roro Sekar Mira, a researcher from the Oceanographic Research Center of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) said, judging from the photos that have been spread on social media, the whale has three ridges and that means it is a type of bryde whale ( Balaenoptera brydei ) . Its status on the IUCN red list is least concern or low risk, because even though the exact population is not known, it is included as a hunting target, so it is not placed in a data deficient status or lack of data.
Santoso Budi Widiarto, Head of the Sorong Coastal and Marine Resources Management Workshop (LPSPL) explained, whales are biota that are protected by law, so there are procedures for interacting with biota, so that riding on the back of whales like what residents do is certainly not justified. considering that near the head there is a blowhole whose working principle is similar to the human nose for breathing.
The coastal and marine areas in Fak-Fak Regency are part of the working area of LPSPL Sorong. For handling remote areas such as the coastal village of Tunas Gain, they help handle whales remotely while coordinating with related parties in the field. After that, it was immediately followed up by the Air-Air Police Unit (Sat Polairud) of the Fak-Fak Police, together with other relevant agencies, they acted quickly to go down to the village of Tunas Gain on Tuesday (16/11/2021).
The head of the Fak-Fak Police Headquarters Unit, Iptu Arif Usman Rumra, who directly led the handling, said his team arrived at the location at 15.00 WIT. The joint team consisting of related agencies immediately took action. They first checked to see the condition of the whale, then measured its body size.
“The body of the whale is approximately 12.20 meters long and approximately 1.20 meters wide,” said Arif Usman.
Seeing the water conditions that did not support the evacuation process, the Head of Polairud through coordination with the relevant agencies participating in the team decided to temporarily stop the evacuation process. Until finally the team returned to the Fak-Fak Polres Sat Polairud Command Headquarters on Tuesday evening.
However, because it was very large and residents could not lift it, we contacted the heavy equipment operator. Incidentally there is a company not far from the village that has heavy equipment. The whale was buried at night,” said Gain Abdul Rahim.
Santoso Budi Widiarto explained, the whale stranding was not only because the marine mammal lost its orientation or lost its group, but also because it was sick and it was time to die. He gave an example when their experience in 2018 was in efforts to rescue stranded whales in the village of Siboru, Fak-Fak. Every effort has been made by the team to encourage and direct the whales towards deeper sea.
But apparently the whale did not want to swim out. When pulled using the rope on the ship, the rope broke and the ship almost capsized. The team has even tried various methods, for example by using sounds to attract the biota’s attention so they want to swim out, but they still don’t want to. Whales keep trying toward shallow water. The marine biota seems to have an instinct that it’s time for it to die.
The working area of LPSPL Sorong covers Papua, West Papua, Maluku and North Maluku. For 2021, said Santoso, there have been a total of 16 strandings. While specifically for West Papua, there were six incidents of stranded marine mammals, consisting of three whales and three dugongs. Of the three whales, two were stranded alive, but one that died was in the village of Tunas Gain, Fak-Fak, who had tried to be rescued but in the end died too.
Whale Shark Stranded on Buru Island, Residents Saved to Sea
Residents on Buru Island, Maluku, were surprised by a whale shark ( Rhincodon typus ) that was stranded, on the coast of Teluk Kayeli Beach, Teluk Kayeli District, Central Maluku district, at around 09.00 WIT Sunday (19/1/2020).
The whale shark or leopard shark was first discovered by Hamid Assagaf, a resident of Kayeli living in a location not far from the speedboat mooring pier.
Hamid then conveyed to residents. Then about 20 residents of Kayeli Village went to the beach where the whale shark was stranded and worked together to pull the poor animal back into the sea.
At 10.30 WIT, the spotted shark was rescued by residents of Kayeli Village into the sea. “When residents found it, the shark looked weak. It is possible that he was sick so he was stranded on the beach,” said Ali, a local resident.
According to him, the shark was accompanied by several of its children. “There are several small sharks playing beside their mothers. When they were returned to the sea, some residents asked that the small sharks be kept. But other people don’t want it,” he said.
He explained that the whale shark was pulled out to sea by tying it with a rope, then pulled using a speedboat out to sea. When pulled, several small sharks continue to follow.
The whale shark is large and has an estimated length of more than four meters. Ali admitted that the residents took the initiative to return the shark to the sea, because it was not ferocious.
Meanwhile, Hendrik Sombo, Head of the Sorong Coastal Marine Resource Management Workshop (PSPL) Sub-sieve for Utilization and Preservation, said that his party was aware of stranded whale sharks through the mass media.
“Loka LPSPL Sorong expresses appreciation for the people in Kayeli Village, with full awareness of having a sense of responsibility to help release the stranded whale shark alive,” he said.
He hopes that the community will take responsibility and have awareness to protect the sustainability of protected marine biota. One of them is by releasing them if they find stranded protected marine life alive.
“The stranded shark is positive for whale sharks. While regarding full protection, it is the entire life cycle or parts of the body,” explained Santoso who was contacted by Mongabay Indonesia.
Santoso also said that in the working area of the Sorong PSPL Loka there are two permanent appearances of sharks, namely in the Cendrawasih Bay National Park managed by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry (KLHK) and the Triton Bay Regional Waters Conservation Area in Kaimana which is managed by the Regional Government.
“For other locations, it is likely due to the migration process of the biota concerned,” he explained.
He explained that research in 2016, in Kwatisore TN Teluk Cendrawasih, managed to identify 23 individuals of whale sharks, including 17 old individuals and 6 new individuals. As of August 2018, a total of 179 whale sharks had been identified in Cenderawasih Bay.
Meanwhile, James Abraham, a researcher from the Faculty of Marine Sciences, Pattimura University, Ambon, said that the whale shark is known as one of the mega species with a habit of filtering seawater to eat.
He said, Kayeli Bay is one area that is considered fertile. In the western monsoon from December to February, this bay gets fertility contributions from the upwelling process or rising water masses in the lower layers.
The existence of this whale shark is thought to coincide with the presence of anchovies as a food source. That said, on the way to find food in the Kayeli Bay area, said James, this shark was then trapped in shallow coastal waters.
This species, he said, usually wanders in groups ( schooling ). He suspects that the stranded shark separated from a large group while wandering around the northern waters of Buru Island.