Whales and dolphins subject of ongoing DMWR marine mammal research
The Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources is currently at the forefront of the ongoing marine mammal research project, aimed at determining the presence and population of marine mammal species in the territory.
Responding to Samoa News inquiries, DMWR wildlife biologist Alden Tagarino said via email that there has been progress, as they now have determined and identified a total of thirteen marine mammal species present in American Samoa, with the addition of the beaked whale that was found stranded in Afono village earlier this year.
Tagarino said that currently, they are conducting small cetacean photo-identification and collecting tissue sampling for genetic studies. Next fiscal year, they plan to conduct distance-based surveys.
Listed below are the marine mammals (cetaceans) that are present in the territory:
1) Minke Whale
2) Humpback Whale
Odontocetes/Toothed whales or dolphins
2) Dwarf Sperm Whale
3) Killer Whale
4) False Killer Whale
5) Short Finned Pilot Whale
6) Cuvier's Beaked Whale
7) Common Bottlenose Dolphin
8) Striped Dolphin
9) Spotted Dolphin
10) Rough Toothed Dolphin
11) Spinner Dolphin
12) Beaked Whale — Mesoplodon species (Tagarino said they are still waiting for the confirmation of this species based on the results from the genetic samples that were sent off island to the Southwest Fisheries Science Center laboratory in La Jolla, CA).
How important are these marine mammals?
Tagarino responded: “Marine mammals play a very important role in maintaining the marine ecosystem balance, e.g. predator-prey or regulation of prey populations.”
He added that marine mammals are not harmful to local animal and plant life.
As far as population, Tagarino said they are still trying to determine the population of cetaceans in the territory. In addition, they are planning to expand the survey to include the Manu'a Islands, although they are faced with the common problem of limited funding to carry this out.
So where are some good places where one can catch a glimpse of local marine mammals? Tagarino said, “Pretty much all over the island.” He said most of the time, sightings of dolphins are reported by the public in the areas of Matu'u and Faganeanea, Fagasa, Leone, and the Sliding Rock (Leala).
Tagarino said marine mammals should not be caught for human consumption, as they contain a very high mercury content and therefore, are not safe to eat.
He said marine mammals can be dangerous, but there are benefits to having them around, especially in places where dolphin and whale watching are big business and therefore have the potential of bringing in a lot of money, making their presence a good source of income for tourism.
In addition to researching and studying the presence and population of marine mammals in local waters, responding to calls of strandings is also one of the major activities for the ongoing project.
More information on the marine mammal research project can be obtained by contacting Alden Tagarino directly at 633-4456.