Scientific research is the core activity of MareCet. We believe that through rigorous research we can expand our knowledge on marine mammals, and by extension, the marine environment. Our cetacean research program includes population assessments, behavioural studies, genetics, and human-wildlife interactions which are both species and location-specific. Our current research projects include:
Langkawi Dolphin Research (LDR)
The Langkawi Dolphin Research Project (LDR) is MareCet’s flagship project and first conservation-based cetacean research project. It was started in 2010, when MareCet was still an idea that was forming, however it was the LDR that was the catalyst for MareCet to finally become official in 2012.
The project focuses on investigating the distribution, abundance, ranging patterns, social structure, behaviours, acoustic ecology and overlaps in human-dolphin interactions of Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins (Sousa chinensis), Irrawaddy dolphins (Orcaella brevirostris) and Indo-Pacific finless porpoises (Neophocaena phocaenoides) around the beautiful emerald waters surrounding the Langkawi archipelago and adjacent Kedah and Perlis mainland. The project has also occasionally recorded the presence of Bryde’s whales (Balaenoptera edeni) and Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus).
Our research results suggest that Langkawi’s waters may be one of the most prominent places within Southeast Asia to view the elusive finless porpoise and also large groups of Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins. The research team works closely with the local authorities and local communities to develop workable solutions where conflict has been identified between important dolphin areas and places with high human activities. For example, recommendations on a speed limit zone for public ferries were provided to the Langkawi Plan 2015 – 2030, which was drafted by the Kedah State Department of Town and Country Planning. In 2019, based on data we contributed from our research, the IUCN Marine Mammal Protected Areas Task Force recognised the waters around Langkawi and its adjacent mainland as part of the Satun-Langkawi Archipelago Important Marine Mammal Area (IMMA). Check out the various features on our LDR efforts in the Media page and project photos and videos on our Facebook page!
Matang Dolphin Research (MDR)
The Matang Dolphin Research Project is MareCet’s second conservation-based cetacean research project that began in mid-2013. The project area spans between the Perak coasts of Kuala Gula in the north, and Kuala Jarum Mas further to the south, encompassing also the estuaries of Kuala Sangga, Kuala Larut and Kuala Trong. The productive coastal waters and environment of Matang, Perak, is home to Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins (Sousa chinensis), Irrawaddy dolphins (Orcaella brevirostris) and Indo-Pacific finless porpoises (Neophocaena phocaenoides) as well as a wide array of resident and migratory shore birds, families of river otters, fireflies and the estuarine crocodile (Crocodylus porosus).
The area boasts extensive mudflats, and the highly-acclaimed Matang Mangroves, dubbed the best managed mangrove forest in the world. The centuries old quaint yet bustling fishing village of Kuala Sepetang Research is the hop-off point for our project. Research conducted within this project focuses on the population abundance of the cetaceans, their distribution, habitat use, behaviour, ranging patterns, diet and overlaps in human-dolphin interactions. We also previously conducted interview surveys with local fishermen to understand their fishing activities, cases of entanglements and their perception about cetaceans.
The project aims to gain a better understanding of the ecology of cetaceans and their conservation needs, which will contribute to the development of species and habitat management strategies with the local authorities and local communities. The project also aims to monitor the development of dolphin-watching tourism in Kuala Sepetang, and provide input for best practices for the industry. It is from this project site that we give people the opportunity to see what dolphin research is like through our Matang dolphin edu-tour day trips. More details on the edu-tour can be found at our Marine Excursions page.
In 2019, based on data we contributed from our research, the IUCN Marine Mammal Protected Areas Task Force recognised the waters around Matang and its adjacent coasts as part of the Matang Mangroves and Coastal Waters Important Marine Mammal Area (IMMA). Check out MDR project photos and videos on our Facebook page!
Dugong Research and Conservation
Through a prestigious Pew Fellowship in Marine Conservation awarded to Dr Ponnampalam in 2014, and also funding support from the Global Environment Facility Dugong and Seagrass Conservation Project, MareCet embarked on a comprehensive research Dugong Research and Conservation (DRC) project to collect detailed information on the dugong population around the Sibu-Tinggi Archipelago, off the east coast of Johor, to understand their biological, ecological and conservation needs. The project is multidisciplinary and has involved various methodologies such as aerial surveys, acoustic surveys, contaminants analyses and habitat health assessments, seagrass mapping and investigations on dugong feeding ecology, and social science studies. Through this research, it was identified that the archipelago is a very important habitat for the endangered dugong population, possibly the last stronghold for the species in Peninsular Malaysia. Our research also found that the main area where most dugongs are sighted lie outside the boundaries of the existing marine park, rendering the animals and their seagrass habitat vulnerable to human threats.
We channeled this vital information to the relevant government agencies and lobbied for the authorities to increase the protection of critical habitats in the area through improved conservation and management actions, such as a proposed dugong sanctuary. In 2016, the Johor state government expressed commitment for a proposed dugong sanctuary, and subsequently appointed MareCet to draft a comprehensive Dugong Sanctuary Management Plan and propose the boundaries of the Sanctuary. At the moment, the proposal to gazette the Johor Dugong Sanctuary is pending with the Federal Government of Malaysia. In 2019, based on data we contributed from our research, the IUCN Marine Mammal Protected Areas Task Force recognised the waters around Pulau Sibu and Pulau Tinggi and adjacent Mersing waters as the Mersing Archipelago Important Marine Mammal Area (IMMA).
This project has had collaborations with local and international scientists and conservationists from the University of Malaya, Mote Marine Laboratory, USA, and Kyoto University, Japan, as well as community partners from Pulau Sibu and Pulau Tinggi. Check out our DRC project VIDEO and other project photos and videos on our Facebook page!
The WHALE Project
Whales are hardly synonymous with Malaysia. In fact, most Malaysians are not aware that whales live in our seas, there seems to be a misconception amongst many that any whale seen in the country is likely a vagrant or lost its path.
Over the last decaded, MareCet has received many third party reports of whales sighted about Pulau Payar and Langkawi. Our own team have had several sightings of Bryde’s whales (Balaenoptera edeni) during our dolphin surveys.
In 2019, we decided to embark on the very first research project in Malaysia that is dedicated to large whales, and named it simply, The WHALE Project by MareCet. Using previous information given to us, and in addition to our direct observations in 2019, we found that the waters surrounding Pulau Payar and further offshore are an important feeding ground for the whales. We recorded the whales using a technique called bubble-net feeding, a technique that is usually synonymous with humpback whales. Check out the VIDEO at our Facebook page!
The WHALE Project aims to study the diversity, distribution, abundance, movements and acoustic ecology of the baleen whales that are found around Pulau Payar and adjacent offshore waters. As data is currently lacking, our hope is for our research to help us identify the whales’ ecological and conservation needs so that we can provide conservation recommendations to the authorities.