Reflections on the Stranding Training in the Philippines

(Reflections on the Stranding Training of Earth Island Institute Asia-Pacific in the Philippines written by Femke den Haas)

The flight to Manilla left Jakarta late, and we arrived early the next morning in the Philippines. We continued our travels to Damuagete. We arrived at the Florentino Hostel at midday, a very cozy place where we shared the apartment together. We could cook ourselves or eat the nice food available at the local Gabby’s Restaurant.

Our Earth Island team members counted four that day (Trixie Concepcion, Earth Island’s head of Philippine monitoring, Weng, , Indra and myself), but in the evening we were joined by our southern team members – Carlito, Dong, Homer and Bong – after their long travel by bus and ferry. We used our time to prepare for the arrival of the other team members: Filling the kitchen with fresh veggies, etc. The following morning, our meetings started early and ended in the evening, as we discussed the Earth Island Dolphin Safe tuna monitoring program in Southeast Asia and other Earth Island activities.

Sadly, Dong had to return home for family reasons one day after his arrival. His name was mentioned many times though throughout the meetings, as he had always guided and trained the ‘southern team’; he is also very active on responding to marine mammal strandings.

The following morning early, the team left for Apo Island, after an hour drive and many shocking images on the way (cockfight rings and screaming pigs). We took a small boat and crossed the sea to get to the beautiful Apo Island. Here, eco-tourism is developing rapidly with tourists swimming around with the green sea turtles that are feeding near the coast line. The team went snorkeling to observe turtles and the amazing hard and soft corals surrounding the island.

The next day, veterinarians AA, Ale and Ari were ready early to start with the marine mammal stranding training.

The three formed a great team, and all us “students” immediately concentrated on their amazingly interesting and thorough presentations, starting from ecology to identification, and concluding with a detailed marine mammal rescue presentation. For two full days, we were inside the “classroom”, almost 12 hours. If you asked me if I would be able to sit inside a class room and listen for twelve hours to presentations, no matter how interesting the topic would be, I would have declared you crazy. But, these classes passed by so fast and were so interesting that we simply had no idea of time passing.

I think this was possible not only because all team members are passionate about this subject, but also because of the amazing A-Team (AA, Ale and Ari) who were able to keep our attention and still stand on their feet after so many hours.

I have been involved with marine mammal strandings in Indonesia. I have joined trainings before, but this training was the best and most thorough. I really learned a lot.

On day 3, Friday, we spent half a day in the “classroom”. After a morning session with the last information about the proper handling of marine mammals during strandings, the team was divided in two and informed to be ready for action later in the day. Just when we were supposed to have our first bite of lunch, the team leaders received an SOS with two different locations and information about stranded Aquatic Wildlife. We rushed to the location – fast action is vital during strandings – after which my team observed an “orca” on the beach. The orca was not moving because he was made of plastic, but since he was “stranded”, we had to find out the whole background story and follow the detailed steps of procedure on how to handle this stranded marine mammals. Crowd control and assistance from the crowd was also arranged. My team concluded the case was 02 – just died – and proceeded with all steps needed for this faux stranding. It was a fun exercise and well set up. The other team had a simulated stranding case of a mother bottlenose dolphin with a baby calf.

On Saturday, we had the luck to observe wild dolphins in Bais. We had a wonderful encounter with a pod of spinner dolphins. It is always so great to see the dolphins wild and free, where they should be!

When we arrived back in Dumaguete in the late afternoon, Ale was going to provide a last, very interesting presentation about the whale sharks. Yet after fifteen minutes AA interrupted with “we have a code 1 stranding” notification.

What a coincidence! On the last day of our training, there was a stranding of a dolphin in the area? It was hard to believe but true. The stranding was for real. So, 7 team members hurried to the location where we arrived by sunset. The police had already relocated the dolphin to their station from the beach, as it turned out to be a very young Fraser male dolphin, who, sadly, had died already. AA and Ale stated that the cause of death must have been due to a fisherman’s net, as scars were found on the snout of the young individual.

Samples were taken for further research, and the dolphin was buried in a safe location.

Despite that sad turn of events, the evening was filled with a celebration for all participants after which we had to say farewell to the team from the southern Philippines who had to return home.

Music and meetings followed, and, after little sleep, the remaining team gathered the next morning for Ale’s very interesting talk about the amazing whale shark and the impacts made by the tourism industry by “whale shark feeding” and whale watching activities.

It was a very good week. We all learned lots and realized how lucky we are with such a great team. After arrival in Surabaya, the Indonesian team traveled immediately to a location where a whale shark was reported stuck for six days in a tidal ditch.

There is a lot of work to do, and we have to act to save and protect aquatic wildlife together.

This week of training truly contributed to that.

For information on Earth Island’s work in the Philippines and the Asian Pacific for dolphins, including our Dolphin Safe tuna monitoring program, anti-captivity work, and other issues, go to our Facebook Page.

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