DMWR asks for support for Stranding Response
Wildlife biologist for the Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources (DMWR) Alden Tagarino is appealing to Governor Lolo Matalasi Moliga and Lt. Governor Lemanu Peleti Mauga for “support of the Stranding Response activity in the Territory, concerning permission for 24-hour use of the stranding response truck, as strandings can happen any time of the day.
According to the biologist, only DMWR is authorized and permitted (under NOAA-NMFS Permit # 14097, FWS Permit # TE094808-2, Cooperative Agreement with the Pacific Islands Stranding Network based in Hawai’i) to deal with such events."
Tagarino explained that stranding response is one of the major activities spearheaded by DMWR for the conservation of sea turtles in the territory. The activity, (the whole project including vehicle, fuel, maintenance, etc.) is 100% grant funded and therefore, needs to be implemented in order to comply with the federal grant commitment of the American Samoa Government.
He said the program also needs to be supported by everyone in the Territory, “in order for the future generations to still be able to see an actual live turtle, as it is an integral part of the Samoan culture.”
An example of the need for the Stranding Response activity, is the recent stranding of the Beaked Whale in Afono Village earlier this year. It was reported on a Sunday (February 4, 2013). However, due to the mandate limiting use of 24-hour vehicles to department and agency directors only, DMWR responders could not immediately carry out their duties.
As a result, the stranded whale began to decompose and release a foul odor that had Afono residents expressing concern about health and safety issues, as the site of the stranding was adjacent to the village’s elementary school.
RECENT STRANDING RESPONSE ACTIVITY
A pair of turtles were found dead in Pago Pago village this past Tuesday. Tagarino said that around 10 a.m. that morning, he was informed by DMWR wildlife staffer Ailao Tualaulelei that a call had come in from Cynthia Oloa Tamaolemalo to report that two dead turtles had been discovered in Pago Pago village.
Tagarino and Tualaulelei responded immediately to collect the remains of the turtles. According to the DMWR biologist, both of the dead turtles were Hawksbills (Laumei Ulumanu/Laumei Faiuga) and the first was found approximately 20 meters adjacent to the Pago stream near the Korea House, and fairly fresh.
The second turtle was found in the Pago stream, already in an advanced stage of decomposition.
Morphometric data (curved carapace length, width and weight) was collected from the turtles, and a small skin sample was also taken for further genetic studies. Both of the turtles are currently being frozen in the DMWR laboratory, awaiting a necropsy to check for the cause of death.
A second turtle stranding response occurred on Tuesday, and this came after a call was received from Laulii resident Eric Pese around 3:40 p.m.
Tualaulelei and Tagarino arrived at the stranding site less than an hour later.
The turtle, still alive — was identified to be another hawksbill turtle (Laumei Ulumanu/Laumei Faiuga). As with the first response case that day, morphometric data was collected in addition to tissue samples for further genetic studies. After collecting all the data, the turtle was flipper-tagged and released at the site. Based on an interview between DMWR responders and Pese, it was determined that the turtle had been accidentally caught in a fishing line.
Prior to leaving the stranding site, Tagarino and Tualaulelei conducted a little impromptu outreach session by sharing some information on turtle identification with some of the kids who were there, curious about what was going on, and not knowing the difference between a hawksbill and a green turtle (Laumei Tualimu/Laumei Meamata).
“It was a good stranding response, as a little education outreach was also conducted,” Tagarino told Samoa News yesterday.
DMWR encourages the public to report any and all stranding of turtles, dolphins and whales by calling 633-4456 during normal office hours or the 24-hour hotline at 733-5304.