Cetacean Survey Findings

Muzzle of a humpback whale in the water
Fluke of a blue whale in the water

Humpback whale newborn calf sighted just off Savu Island. Picture: APEX Environmental / Benjamin Kahn. Blue whale fluke. Picture: APEX Environmental / Benjamin Kahn.

Savu Sea, located at the crossroads between the Pacific and Indian Oceans close to Indonesia has sea trenches that can reach more than 3750 meters in depth. The combination of strong currents, deep-sea ridges and cold water upwelling makes for a dynamic oceanic ecosystem that includes many important habitats for Indonesia's whales and dolphins, including the mighty blue whales and the deep diving sperm whales. Furthermore, the Savu Sea supports a large biomass of fish populations including sardines, mackerel, tropical tunas and billfishes, as well as robust coral reefs. The Savu Sea functions as a "marine corridor" for many migratory species such as whales, whale sharks, sea turtles, marlin and other ocean wanderers. Because of these special features, the Savu Sea is recognized as a marine hotspot.

To get the latest update on cetaceans (the collective name for all whales and dolphins), the potential impact of human interaction with the whale species, as well as to provide technical assistance on the zoning and management plans of Savu Sea Marine National Park (TNP Laut Sawu) a Rapid Ecological Assessment on the distribution, bio-diversity and relative abundance of the Savu Sea Cetaceans and Seabirds was conducted. The assessment is part of a project funded by the International climate Initiative (IKI) and has been carried out by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) Indonesia Program in collaboration with APEX Environmental (AE), the Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries, the National Marine Conservation Area Authority (BKKPN), and the Marine Conservation Council of East Nusa Tenggara (ENT) Province.

Using both visual and acoustic methods, the survey team recorded a high biodiversity of 10 cetacean species and an individual count of at least 1595 animals. The study also included one of the first dedicated seabird surveys in Indonesia. An important outcome of this survey were the numerous sightings of the rare and highly migratory blue whales (with animals between 20 and 24 meters long) and a massive 18 meter 'bull' sperm whale. These sightings are rare in the tropical Indo-Pacific and Coral Triangle.

The IKI project supports the development of a network of marine protected areas in the South of Indonesia, improved land-use planning on the part of the Indonesian provincial and district governments and effective fisheries management. Biodiversity assessments show the ecological significance of the Savu Sea and form an important foundation for developing strategies for protecting and sustainably using the marine ecosystems.