CMFRI study to help conserve marine mammals

KOCHI AUG. 10. The Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI) is to conduct a study on the marine mammals of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and the neighbouring seas.

The Rs. 1.01-crore project, supported by the Department of Ocean Development of the Centre, aims at preparing an inventory of marine mammal species and their diversity and preparation of a distribution atlas for whales, dolphins, and dugong (sea cow) in the EEZ.

The study, first of its kind in the country, comes at a time when various international agencies and conservationists like the International Whaling Commission, the United Nations Environmental Programme and the International Union for Conservation of Nature are canvassing for the conservation of whales and dolphins, which are under constant threat.

According to scientists, marine mammals are among the most neglected groups in India as no concerted efforts have been made in the country even to collect basic information about them like species diversity, distribution and biological characteristics.

The researchers led by M. Rajagopalan, Head of the Fishery Environment Management Division of the Institute, will look into the population aspects such as age, migration, behaviour and reproduction of the species.

The other objectives of the study include quantifying the pollutant load in the tissues of marine mammals, creating awareness on the endangered status of marine mammals and to promote eco-tourism.

Scientists are of the view that as many as 23 species of Cetaceans and one variety of Sirenia have been reported in the seas around India. However, only four varieties have been listed and protected under the Indian Wild Life Act due to the lack of proper scientific information. They fear that many more varieties may be threatened.

According to scientists, the study is of international significance as the International Whaling Commission has declared the Indian Ocean as a sanctuary for the Cetaceans. The endangered status of many of the marine mammals of India also makes the study relevant.

"The project is expected to provide an impetus to the conservation of marine mammals for maintaining the ecological balance of the marine ecosystem and for non-consumptive utilisation," scientists said.