Tales in the afterlife — revealing the secrets from marine mammal stranding events

Left: Decomposed and afloat; here’s what encountering a cetacean carcass at sea would look like. Pictured here is the Indo-Pacific finless porpoise we found in Teluk Apau, Langkawi; Right: Sometimes if conditions aren’t suitable, samples need to be collected while we are out at sea! Here, MareCet team members are collecting skin samples from a carcass of an Indo-Pacific finless porpoise (NOTE: Permission from the authorities, i.e., Department of Fisheries Malaysia, was sought prior to them sampling the carcass, and thereafter an official application was submitted to keep the samples for research purposes)
Strandings can happen all around the coast of Malaysia. In this picture, the MareCet team are at Pulau Sayak, Kedah, inspecting the carcass of a Bryde’s whale that had stranded on the rocks
Pictured here are skulls from different species of coastal cetaceans in Malaysia. Note the obvious differences in morphology, from the size to the shape of each skull. Scientists often use these morphological differences to identify the species, if only skeletal remains are found. Skull morphology has also played an important role in many taxonomic research on cetaceans
Left: Pictured here is our MareCet team member processing stomach content samples. We found remnants of squid and fish, and whole prawns in this stomach content sample from a pregnant (yes, unfortunately) Indo-Pacific finless porpoise from Matang, Perak!; Right: Teeth can give us an indication into the animal’s diet, as well as an estimate as to how old the animal was based on how worn out the teeth are. Teeth/tooth socket count and teeth shape and size can also help researchers determine the species, especially if the carcass of the stranded animal is highly decomposed and unidentifiable
MareCet team members are pictured here taking measurements and collecting data from the carcass of a dugong found dead at sea near Pulau Sibu, Johor. (NOTE: Dissection of this carcass was conducted with the permission and aid of relevant authorities from the Department of Fisheries Malaysia)
Left: The stomach of the dugong was found to be full of seagrass, along with some endoparasites (known as nematodes, i.e., a type of worm) present; Right: A skin sample collected from the carcass of a dugong that was found dead in Johor, for future genetic analysis
A code 2 carcass of an Indo-Pacific finless porpoise in Pulau Tuba, Langkawi, with a missing (chopped off) tail fluke; a tell-tale sign that the animal was likely accidentally entangled in a fishing net. Fishermen typically find it the easiest to free their nets from a dead entangled cetacean by cutting off its tail. Picture credit: Martin Wallraff
Code 4 carcass of a Kogia sp. found in Sg. Berembang, Perlis in 2021. Strandings can contribute to the identification of new species records for specific localities, especially when it’s a species that hasn’t previously been observed in the area. Picture credit: Syamil Abd Rahman
A MareCet team member showing some young ocean enthusiasts the different skulls of cetacean species found here in Malaysia during our recent Whales On-The-Wheels nationwide tour in February 2022 (NOTE: These specimens are displayed with permission from the Department of Fisheries Malaysia)
Often when a stranding occurs, crowds gather to have a closer look at the animal. People from the surrounding vicinity, old and young, rush over to the stranding site. This is a photo taken back in 2011, during a whale stranding incident at Pulau Sayak, Kedah
The English language version of MareCet’s marine mammal stranding response video
The Bahasa Melayu version of MareCet’s marine mammal stranding response video
Exciting scenes at a hands-on marine mammal stranding response workshop! Participants pretend to be a stranded animal to allow other workshop participants to practice attending to a live stranded marine mammal during the marine mammal stranding response workshop that MareCet held jointly with the Langkawi Development Authority in Langkawi in 2016 for local stakeholders
MareCet team members conducting marine mammal stranding response workshops for local stakeholders with Bluna, our stranding response mascot!
Posters we produced in Bahasa Melayu and English, showcasing all the steps one can take in the event of a dead or live stranding in Malaysia
Perlis Nature and Wildlife team members and a local fisherman pictured here assisting the bottlenose dolphin that live stranded in Perlis in 2021. With their gallant efforts, the dolphin was successfully refloated into deeper water where it swam away. Picture credit: Syamil Abdul Rahman



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Flukes for Thought by MareCet

Flukes for Thought by MareCet

MareCet is an NGO dedicated to the research and conservation of marine mammals and their habitats in Malaysia.