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humpback whale research in the babuyan islands – research, education and conservation

The Babuyan Islands is the only known breeding ground of humpback whales in the Philippines. There is a considerable number of whales migrating here every year. Recently recognized as part of the Asian stock of humpback whales in the western North Pacific, very little is still known about the extent of their distribution, abundance and migratory patterns. The Islands exhibit a high marine biodiversity with 12 other cetacean species, as well as sea turtles and whale sharks. Local communities depend mainly on small-scale fisheries and backyard farming for their livelihood. In the past five years unsustainable and destructive extraction of these resources has escalated. Yet, the islands, owing to its reputed beautiful environment are being promoted as a tourist destination, highlighting whale-watching as a source of huge revenues.

We are monitoring the status of humpback whales in the Philippines through annual boat-based surveys around the Babuyan Islands. Through comparisons of fluke photos and song recordings with groups from Russia, Japan and Hawaii we aim to better understand the links with other populations in the western North Pacific, particularly in feeding grounds. Our photoID study has currently identified 241 humpback whale individuals. Observations made through boat-based surveys allow us to assess current threats to cetaceans in this area. Locally, our work contributes cetacean data to the municipality’s integrated coastal resources management plan and provides recommendations for their marine ecotourism plan. We have trained local entrepreneurs in the proper conduct of whale watching to help ensure that future whale watching tour enterprises will be conducted in accordance to the national guidelines. The project is also building up information on fisheries in the municipality with the help of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources – Region 2.

Conducting boat-based cetacean surveys around the Babuyan Islands

Fluke photoidentification study of humpback whales

Listening and recording humpback whale songs