Sri Lanka to probe whale deaths, do acoustic monitoring
Dec 20, 2011 (LBO) - Sri Lanka is launching a probe on whale deaths which are suspected to be due to shipping, and also study the mammals by monitoring their calls underwater, the head of a research agency said.
"Too many whales are dying around Sri Lanka," Hiran Jayewardene chairman of Sri Lanka's National Aquatic Research Agency told reporters in Colombo.
"Too many whales are getting killed by the ships."
Frequently dead whales wash up on the shores of the island. A major East-West shipping route lies off Sri Lanka's south coast. During parts of the year or 'season' whales pass a few miles off the shore of the island.
"We are still analyzing statistics but in the early part of the year we had some marine mammal dying every week, sometimes two a week," Jayewardene said.
"We had picked up the carcasses of blue whales which have clearly been killed by ships. One was cut by a large propeller."
Jayewardene said the NARA, universities and the wildlife agency needed expertise from international specialists to carry out postmortems on dead whales, some of which were partially decomposed when found.
He says up to 20 whale carcasses sometimes found in a year. Earlier this year two dugong, which are now rare, were found dead due to illegal dynamiting off Mannar in the north eastern coast.
There was no knowledge about the population of whales around the island, Jayewardene said.
Some researchers suspect that the whales, which include blue and sperm whales are passing by the island during an annual migration around the Indian Ocean.
Whale watching has become a popular tourist activity, with whales now coming within several miles of the shore. Jayewardene said if the whales were disturbed too much they could go away.
He said a new NARA research vessel would be equipped with 'passive acoustic monitoring' facilities. Hydrophones towed behind the vessel would be able to pick up whale songs from up to 15 miles away.
"Electronically we can
Whale Probeanalyze from the sound what kind of whale it is, which direction they are going," Jayewardene said.
He said the research may help get a better idea of the number of whales around Sri Lanka.