Marine mammals in Malaysia

Are there whales and dolphins in Malaysia?

Yes, there are. In fact, a total of 27 species of whales, dolphins, porpoise and even the dugong have been recorded here. These are based on live sighting and dead stranded animal records. Some of these 27 species are found in Malaysian waters throughout the year (i.e. resident) while others may only pass through at certain times of the year (i.e. transient) or are vagrants (i.e. individuals that stray occasionally outside their range limits).

Isn’t Malaysia’s waters too polluted for these animals?

Cetaceans are rather resilient creatures, and are able to adapt to living in a habitat surrounded by great environmental pressures. That said, many have the perception that Malaysia’s waters are polluted due to the murkiness of our coastal waters. While pollution exists in our waters in varying degrees in different parts of the country’s waters, the murkiness of our coastal areas is mainly due to the largely mangrove-lined, muddy bottom shores that we have. These are areas of high productivity, with a high sediment load that corresponds to the daily tidal cycles, therefore churning up the turbidity of the water. However, back to the question of pollution and cetaceans, Malaysia’s waters are not too polluted for these animals. In fact, cetaceans may also be found elsewhere around the world, where it is highly developed and industrialised (e.g. Hong Kong, Japan).

What are the most commonly occurring species of marine mammals in Malaysia?

  • Indo-Pacific finless porpoise (Neophocaena phocaenoides)
  • Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin (Sousa chinensis)
  • Irrawaddy dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris)
  • Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops aduncus)
  • Long-beaked common dolphin (Delphinus capensis c.f. tropicalis)
  • Gray’s spinner dolphin (Stenella longirostris)
  • Pantropical spotted dolphin (Stenella attenuata)
  • Bryde’s whale (Balaenoptera edeni)
  • Dugong (Dugong dugon)

For the most recent checklist of marine mammals in Malaysia, please click here.

Where are cetaceans and dugongs distributed in Malaysia?

Cetaceans may be found all along the east and west coasts of Peninsular Malaysia, and all along the coasts of Sarawak and Sabah. They are also found in the offshore waters of the South China Sea, Sulu Sea, Sulawesi Sea, Andaman Sea and the Straits of Malacca.

Dugongs are found in the Johor Straits, around the Johor east coast islands (Sibu-Tinggi-Besar-Rawa), in Lawas Bay, Sarawak, and in the coastal areas of northern, northeastern and southeastern Sabah, where seagrass meadows thrive.

What are the main threats to marine mammals in Malaysia?

In Malaysia, marine mammals are threatened by the following:

  • Entanglement in fishing gear
  • Depletion of prey resources due to overfishing and pollution
  • Severe habitat degradation due to large-scale coastal development projects
  • Noise pollution from activities such as shipping and seismic exploration
  • Lack of research data which disables the determination of a species’ conservation status and ecologically important areas for population survival
  • Low levels of awareness on marine mammals

Are marine mammals in Malaysia in danger of going extinct?

We currently do not have sufficient data to ascertain the status of marine mammal populations in the country. Therefore, it is not possible to determine whether marine mammals in Malaysia are in danger of going extinct. However, as the country continues to develop, so does pressure increase on the health of its marine environments. It is therefore possible that marine mammal populations will be exposed to a greater risk of becoming endangered, if these potential threats are not mitigated and left unchecked.

What are simple steps that can be taken to conserve marine mammals in Malaysia?

Caring for the sea also means caring for marine mammals. One of the simplest steps you can take to conserve marine mammals is to never throw rubbish into the sea. Items such as plastic bags, plastic bottles and other non-biodegradable items carry a high chance of ending up in the stomach of a marine mammal, which often results in death due to clogging in the digestive tract of the animal.

If you participate in a dolphin-watching or whale-watching tour, be sure to choose an operator that observes best practices. Never harass the animals that you are watching by tapping on the side of the boat or making loud noises to seemingly attract them.

Report a live sighting or a stranding incident to us, so that we may take the appropriate action in the shortest possible time. You may report your live sighting here.