Research projects

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 detection and overlaps in human-dolphin interactions of Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins (Sousa chinensis) and Indo-Pacific finless porpoises (Neophocaena phocaenoides) around the beautiful emerald waters surrounding the Langkawi archipelago and adjacent Kedah mainland. The project has also occasionally recorded the presence of Bryde’s whales (Balaenoptera edeni) and Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus), and other charismatic megafauna such as the whale shark (Rhyncodon typus) and hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata). Our research results are suggesting that Langkawi’s waters may be one of the most prominent places within Southeast Asia for the occurrence of the elusive finless porpoise. The research team works closely with the local authorities and local communities to develop a 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 have been provided to the Langkawi Plan 2015 – 2030, which is being drafted by the Kedah State Department of Town and Country Planning. This project also provides volunteer opportunities, as a means of building local capacity in research and conservation, and has seen collaborations with international scientists from Kyoto University in Japan. For a sneak peak of the Langkawi Dolphin Research Project, click here

Matang Dolphin Research (MDR)

The Matang Dolphin Research Project is MareCet’s second conservation-based cetacean research project that was started in mid-2013. The project currently spans between the coasts of Kuala Gula towards the north, and Kuala Jarum Mas towards the south. The productive coastal waters and environment of Matang, Perak, is home to Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins (S. chinensis), Irrawaddy dolphins (Orcaella brevirostris) and Indo-Pacific finless porpoises (N. phocaenoides) as well as a wide array of resident and migratory shore birds, families of river otters, fireflies and estuarine crocodile (Crocodylus porosus). The area boasts extensive mudflats, and the highly-acclaimed Matang Mangroves, dubbed the best managed mangrove forest in the world. Comprehensive boat-based surveys are conducted throughout the year to assess the population abundance of the cetaceans and to investigate their distribution, habitat use, behaviour, ranging patterns, diet and overlaps in human-dolphin interactions. Interview surveys with local fishermen in fishing villages are conducted 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 the dolphin-watching tourism in Kuala Sepetang, and provide input for best practices for the industry. This project also provides volunteer opportunities, as a means of building local capacity in research and conservation, and has seen collaborations with international scientists from Trent University and CetAsia Research Group in Canada. For a sneak peak of the Matang Dolphin Research Project, click here

Dugong Research and Conservation in Johor (DRC)

In 2010, through a rapid aerial survey conducted in the Sibu-Tinggi Archipelago off Johor’s east coast, it was identified that the area is a critical habitat for the dugong (Dugong dugon) population in Peninsular Malaysia (i.e. an area deemed important for the viability of the animals). It was also found that the main area where most dugongs were sighted was outside the boundaries of the existing marine park, rendering the animals and their seagrass habitat vulnerable to human threats. Through a prestigious Pew Fellowship in Marine Conservation awarded to Dr Ponnampalam in 2014, and also funding support from the Global Environment Facility, the important research continues to collect more detailed information on the dugong population in the area to further understand their biological and ecological needs. The current project involves various methodologies which are aerial surveys, acoustic surveys, contaminants analyses and habitat health assessments, seagrass mapping and quantitative studies and socio-economic studies. This vital information will be channeled to the relevant government agencies to increase the protection of critical habitats in the area through improved conservation and management actions, such as a proposed dugong sanctuary. This project also provides volunteer opportunities, as a means of building local capacity in research and conservation, and has collaborations with local and international scientists and conservationists from University Malaya, Universiti Putra Malaysia, Heriot-Watt University Malaysia, Mote Marine Laboratory in Florida, USA, Kyoto University in Japan and Reef Check Malaysia. MareCet is currently in active engagements with the relevant governmental agencies and also local communities to translate our research findings into on-the-ground conservation action for dugongs and their seagrass habitats. For a sneak peak of the Dugong Research and Conservation Project, click here