Marine mammal distribution and interactions with fisheries in East Malaysia
This study aimed to provide scientific information on the status of marine mammals and threats from directed takes and incidental catches in fisheries in East Malaysia. Recommendations for the conservation of the animals and guidelines for further research are also provided. All available information on sightings, strandings, skeletal remains and threats to the marine mammals in East Malaysia prior to this study were reviewed. A series of broad and aerial sighting surveys was conducted in the marine and fluvial waters. The objective was to explore and observe marine mammals at sea, and to describe the present species composition, distribution and density. In conclusion, this study showed that marine mammals in East Malaysian waters are diverse. Dugongs and small citations are facing threats from by-catches in fisheries, declining fisheries resources, habitat loss and degradation, pollution, heavy vessel traffic and rapid urban and industrial development along its coastline. In Sabah, traditional hunting for meat, illegal trawling in estuarine and riverine waters, and dynamite fishing are particularly detrimental to the species and their habitats. Without an immediate, committed and concerted effort to educate the public, monitor fisheries, enforce conservation laws and conduct detailed assessment of the dugong and small cetacean populations and their habitats, there may be little hope to reduce or eliminate the threats and to maintain their present numbers in the waters of East Malaysia.