Cetaceans Monitoring: to be implemented in Mozambique?

New methods for cetaceans monitoring. Have a look on the technological innovations to meet this purpose, the interaction with the exploration of hydrocarbons and Biodinâmica’s services in this field.

Significant habitats of cetaceans and their migration routes in West Africa have been in constant overlap with the activities of exploration for hydrocarbons that have been undertaken by large international companies. The expansion of these activities to East Africa, including Mozambique, may exacerbate this problem. How to reconcile these activities with the conservation of whales, for example?

The biological characteristics of cetaceans make them more vulnerable to human threats than other aquatic groups. These animals have low reproductive rates, slow growth and bioaccumulative potential. Intentional and accidental catches, interaction with fisheries, prospecting and exploration of Oil & Gas, boat traffic, environmental pollution and climate change are the dangers to which these species, several of them endangered, are subject.

Scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society in cooperation with universities and research institutes, suggest that whales that migrate to western Africa during the breeding period, pups come in constant contact with oilrigs, ships and oil toxins that are dangerous to these cetaceans.

Monitoring these type of wildlife has traditionally been done by human observers on vessels or onshore. However, more recently, new technologies have been used.

One technique that has been successfully used in identifying the routes of whales is marking them with satellite transmitters. In Western Africa this technique has been applied to 10 whales and produced very successful results.

Recently, scientists have demonstrated a new method to count whales from space. This method uses very high-resolution satellite pictures and image-processing software to automatically detect the great mammals at or near the ocean surface. The automated system found about 90% of creatures pinpointed in a manual search of the imagery. A pilot study, published in the Journal Plus One, was conducted on southern right whales, in Golfo Nuevo on the coast of Argentina.

The automated counting system using satellite images can cover a large area of the ocean and a fraction of the coast. With the improvement of satellite image resolution and analysis, scientists will be able to monitor many more species of cetaceans and in different places.

Studies of this nature are relevant to the identification of important areas of occurrence of whales and are an important tool in establishing marine protected areas and protection of the likely impacts of hydrocarbons exploration and transportation and other activities associated with oil and gas industry.

Despite the importance of Mozambican waters for cetaceans, where at least 16 species of whales occur, the monitoring activities for this group are still scarce, limited to some parts of the coast. International environmental good practices for the oil & gas industry require the baseline studies, monitoring programmes and implementation of the mitigation hierarchy for this group of marine fauna. Through its consortium with Creocean and the University of Lúrio (North of Mozambique), Biodinâmica and its partners offer services related to the biology, migration, habitat mapping and bio-acoustics of marine mammals services, which are carried out by a joint team of Mozambican, French and Portuguese scientists.

Carlos Litulo

Wildlife Biologist

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