Biodiversity Environment

A new coastal survey on marine mammals

Scientists will conduct habitat modeling and document stranding events, taking into account the potential impacts of climatic changes.

Amidst the frequent occurrences of whales getting stranded on the Indian coast, a team of researchers from the ICAR-Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI) has embarked on a 100-day coastal expedition. Their mission is to gain a deeper understanding of the various types of marine mammals that inhabit the Indian coastline.

This expedition is part of a collaborative research project with the Fishery Survey of India, operating under the Ministry of Fisheries. The primary objective is to assess the stock and population of marine mammals in Indian waters.

Starting their journey from Kochi, the research team will focus on studying marine mammal diversity within 12 nautical miles from the coast. They will also investigate the relationship between instances of marine mammal strandings and changing climatic conditions.

Additionally, the scientists will conduct habitat modeling and document stranding events, taking into account the potential impacts of climatic and oceanographic changes on the behavior of marine mammals.

This joint project aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of marine mammal behavior, population dynamics, and ecology, paving the way for effective conservation efforts in India.

Marine scientists suspect that climate change and its effects on ocean ecosystems may be contributing to the increased incidents of whale strandings. Recently, a 50-foot blue whale carcass washed ashore in the Kozhikode district, highlighting the urgency of the situation.

R Ratheesh Kumar, the Principal Investigator of the project, emphasized that the heightened frequency of cyclones and storm surges could potentially lead to more strandings. Therefore, it is crucial to study the impact of these extreme weather events on the behavior and distribution patterns of marine mammals.

Kumar explained, “These species are highly sensitive to both environmental changes and climatic conditions such as rising ocean temperatures and shifting cyclonic patterns. The CMFRI team will closely monitor these occurrences at sea and collect vital data for further analysis.”

The institute initiated the marine mammal assessment project in 2021, during which they recorded 16 different marine mammal species within the Indian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) through visual surveys conducted onboard research vessels. This project resumed in 2023 after a temporary hiatus.

The survey employs a method called “line transect methodology,” primarily involving the sighting and counting of animals at the species level. Specially trained observers systematically scan the sea using binoculars and their naked eyes to ensure comprehensive coverage of the entire region during these surveys.