December 31, 2008

Hot Spot Of Whale Activity In East Timor

Local and Australian researchers said on Wednesday that one of the world's highest concentrations of dolphins and whales -- many of them protected species -- has been discovered off the coast of East Timor.

A study by the Timor government uncovered a "hot spot" of marine cetaceans migrating through deep channels off the Timor coast, including blue and beaked whales, short-finned pilot whales, melon headed whales and six dolphin species.

Principal scientist Karen Edyvane said the team was amazed to see such an abundance, diversity and density of cetaceans. "Most of them are actually protected," she added.

"It's among the world's hot spots for cetaceans," she said.

East Timorese researchers and experts from the Australian Institute of Marine Science performed the survey while working from a traditional 20-meter wooden Indonesian vessel.

The study found that deep ocean channels of the Wetar and Ombai straits, which plummet more than 9,800 ft, were a major migratory route for marine wildlife moving between the Pacific and Indian oceans, including large sharks and turtles.

U.S. nuclear and Australian navy submarines also use the channels to travel through the Indonesian islands.

The study highlighted the threat posed by unregulated fishing in the region as cash-strapped East Timor looks to develop its fishing industry while searching out potentially lucrative eco-tourism opportunities like whale watching.

Celestino Barreto de Cunha, director of fisheries management for East Timor's government, said they were committed to ensuring that this marine biodiversity is protected.

Edyvane said in just one day, more than 1,000 individuals and possibly as many as 2,000 whales in eight separate pods"”each one containing up to 400 mammals"”were spotted over a 31-mile stretch of coast.

Concentrations were similar to those near Antarctica, where Japan's whaling fleet is currently carrying out its yearly five-month research hunt, chased by anti-whaling activists.


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