Saving Our Cetaceans
Strengthening conservation networks in Goa
Marine cetaceans, such as whales, dolphins and porpoises, are arguably the most commonly seen and best-known marine mammals. Over 86 species are found globally; 25 have been reported from Indian waters. The size and pivotal position of marine cetaceans as predators within food webs makes them ecologically important and a significant conservation concern.
In 2015, an IUCN-led Mangroves for the Future (MFF) project with WWF India found over 230 registered dolphin-watching boats operating in North Goa alone.
There is limited information on the cetaceans of India even though all species are given the highest level of protection under the Wildlife Protection Act (1972).
Recently there has been an increase in reports of live and dead stranded whales and dolphins along India's coastline. This urgently called for the implementation of an effective national response and monitoring plan.
In June 2017, a series of workshops on how to responsibly respond to marine wildlife in distress was conducted for Drishti Lifesaving. They were organised by IUCN's MFF programme in collaboration with Terra Conscious and the Goa Forest Department.
"Drishti lifeguards are first line responders to marine animal stranding, acting as the eyes and ears for the Goa Forest Department"
- Anil Kumar
Chief Conservator of Forests,
Goa Forest Department
Lifeguards are a constant presence on the beaches. In addition to saving human lives, they are often called to deal with marine animals that have washed ashore, including whales, dolphins, turtles and sea snakes.
Over 150 lifeguards and 50 forest guards and officials from North and South Goa were trained in how to handle live and dead marine cetacean strandings. Specific guidance and practical training on globally-accepted protocols were also provided. The groups discussed the challenges they faced and subsequently came up with solutions to those issues.
The response from the Drishti lifeguards and Goa Forest Department was positive. Prior to the workshops, the lifeguards were unaware of the protocols, occasionally putting themselves at risk in order to save the animals.
"This initiative is one of the first of its kind in India and a stepping stone towards collaborative and efficient marine species rescue and conservation"
- P. R. Sinha
The trainings help increase the likelihood that live stranded animals are saved and any carcasses found onshore are disposed of correctly. The basic measurements and data collected will help identify trends in stranding events and develop on-ground conservation solutions.
The lifeguards are now linked to the 24 hour Forest Department Control Rooms. Within just two days of the workshops, six reports of dolphin and marine turtle stranding were made by the lifeguards and efforts to save the live animals were successful.
IUCN and Terra Conscious, in partnership with the Goa Forest Department, will continue to engage stakeholders - including tour operators - in marine species conservation. Continuing these interventions is important for Goa, where a sustainable blue economy is heavily dependent on healthy marine biodiversity.
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Media articles on this topic can be found below: