Category Archives: Science / Conservation

Government of Mozambique chooses to relinquish seismic explorations in core dugong habitat in response to stakeholder input, including SMM Presidential Letter

Good news!

In March 2020, SMM President, D. Ann Pabst signed an SMM Presidential Letter to attract the attention of the Government of Mozambique on the high risks involved in letting the South African SASOL oil giant conduct seismic explorations in core habitat of the last healthy population of dugongs in Africa.

Today South African petroleum giant, SASOL, announced that they have chosen to relinquish Blocks 16 & 19 (the area just to the north of the Bazaruto Archipelago National Park in southern Mozambique) in their entirety to the Government of Mozambique and that the Mozambican authorities have been notified of this decision.

SASOL acknowledged all the comments received during the pre-feasibility phase of the EIA process from scientists, NGOs, tourism operators, fishers, local community members, and international authorities. They said they valued the input provided by these stakeholders.

They stated that they understood and appreciated the environmental sensitivity of the area in question and maintained that sustainability is integral to how SASOL conducts business.

This is encouraging not only for the dugongs – long may they live – but also because it shows that we must never give up.

See the Presidential Letter here:…/presidential-letter-to-m…/

See Official Press Release here:…/1GdErAjUy1y9AToOWRUVEXgw2EW…/view

List of Marine Mammal Species and Subspecies Update Includes New Species and Subspecies

The Committee completed its annual review of the SMM list of accepted marine mammal species and subspecies in May 2020. A new species has been added to the list — Sato’s beaked whale, Berardius minimus Yamada, Kitamura and Matsuishi, 2019. This species is found in the North Pacific Ocean. It is smaller and darker in coloration than Baird’s beaked whale, B. bairdii, a closely related species of Berardius that is also found in the North Pacific. In addition to the morphological differences, mitochondrial DNA data also separate Sato’s beaked whale from the other beaked whale species.

The Committee has also recognized the North Pacific population of fin whales as a separate subspecies, Balaenoptera physalus velifera Cope in Scammon, 1869. Fin whales in the North Pacific have historically been included in the broadly distributed Northern Hemisphere subspecies B. p. physalus. A new genetic study examining both mitochondrial and nuclear DNA found that North Pacific fin whales are diagnosably different from those in the North Atlantic and the Southern Hemisphere, and are likely on a separate evolutionary trajectory.  The subspecies name velifera is Latin for sail-bearing and may refer to the large falcate dorsal fin.

The publications describing these new taxa are:

Archer FI, Robert L. Brownell J, Hancock-Hanser B, Morin P, Robertson K, Sherman K, Calambokidis J, R JU, Rosel P, Mizroch S, Panigada S, Taylor B (2019) Subspecies of fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus Linnaeus, 1758): Taxonomic implications of genetics. J Mammal 100:1653–1670

Yamada TK, Kitamura S, Abe S, Tajima Y, Matsuda A, Mead JG, Matsuishi TF (2019) Description of a new species of beaked whale (Berardius) found in the North Pacific. Scientific Reports 9:1-14

Progress Update from the Conservation Committee

The Committee drafted several Presidential Letters (found here). The most recent was sent to President Tsai of Taiwan in regards to conservation efforts for the Taiwanese white dolphin. In March 2020, a Presidential Letter was sent regarding the conservation of dugongs in the Bazaruto Archipelago National Park (in Mozambique) and adjacent waters, the last viable dugong population in East Africa. The letter asks that the protected area be maintained and expanded and makes several suggestions about proposed oil and gas development. There is also a response to Mexican President López Obrador’s government response to an earlier vaquita letter. The letter expresses distress at evidence of another gillnet vaquita fatality together with evidence of increasing levels of gillnetting (in addition to ongoing illegal totoaba gillnetting) following the cessation of compensation to fishermen. The letter concludes with a plea for action (but none was taken). The final letter went to the NOAA Office of Protected Resources regarding the endangered southern resident killer whales. The letter was in response to a request for comments on ways to reduce impacts of vessels and noise and a series of recommendations that urge the agency to be precautionary are made.