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Marine animal rescue vessel launched

Sunday, March 14 2010

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"Rat" - a Valsayn family pet cat knows just where to go when she can't take the heat anymore- to the cool comfort of the family's bathroom sink where ...

Members of the Manatee Conservation Trust and the Zoological Society of Trinidad and Tobago accompanied by two officials from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Kelvin Alie and Dr Ian Robinson participated in the launch of a marine animal rescue boat, aptly christened Rescue One, last week.

Also present on the day were members of the Caribbean Animal Welfare Association (CAWA), a non-governmental organisation based in Trinidad with a reach throughout the wider Caribbean and the San Juan Rotary Club, rounding off the partners involved in this initiative.

As the timing of the launch coincided with recent reports of pilot whale sightings in the Gulf of Paria, the opportunity was taken to conduct further investigations, making use of the tremendous expertise of IFAW in marine mammal research and conservation. The capability of Rescue One to conduct such an investigation was brought into play with the deployment of its depth sounders, a marine electronic device that can detect the presence of aquatic life. This equipment was acquired to facilitate research studies currently being undertaken by the Manatee Conservation Trust and the Zoological Society of Trinidad and Tobago with the support of IFAW, on the distribution of whales and dolphins in TT waters.

Having deployed the research equipment off Chacachacare Island, the team registered that there was some detection of activity in the area. Further scouting revealed the presence of what was initially thought to be pilot whales, but upon closer observations were identified as bottlenose dolphins. The pod comprised at least ten individuals with one young clearly visible.

In an attempt to confirm the identity of some pictures which are circulation, Dr Robinson used his extensive experience working with marine mammals to identify these reputed pilot whales as false killer whales based on the shape of the dorsal fin and the absence of a bulbous head. The literature also suggests that these species are often associated with bottlenose dolphins, the species actually seen during the launch.That these respective organisations have come together to fill the void in marine animal conservation is no surprise, especially as there are complementarities in their respective mandate. The Manatee Conservation Trust, a community-based entity has always had a focus on marine mammals and since its pivotal role in the saving of 14 of the 25 short-finned pilot whales which stranded on the Manzanilla Beach in 1999, has given much of its attention to monitoring of whales and dolphins in the waters off Trinidad and Tobago. It has been in the forefront of following through on reports made by persons on whale sightings or strandings in any part of the country and is often one of the first responders. The Zoological Society of Trinidad and Tobago already has a land-based animal ambulance which allows members to respond to animals which are in distress and this is a natural extension to ensure coverage of both the terrestrial and aquatic environments.

Nirmal Biptah, Curator of the Emperor Valley Zoo felt that the timing of this launch could only complement the new mandate of the Zoological Society of Trinidad and Tobago Inc in getting involved in the wider aspect of animal welfare throughout Trinidad and Tobago. The Zoological Society of Trinidad and Tobago Inc. for the past 60 years focussed mainly on the running of the Emperor Valley Zoo.

For those familiar with the work of the San Juan Rotary Club, this foray into the marine animal rescue cause should come as no surprise. This organisation has a history of involvement in environmental projects and its support for manatee conservation under the Protect our Earth” programme in 1990 — 1991, is what led to the formation of the Manatee Conservation Trust in 1999. Additionally, it has been providing support to the Zoological Society of Trinidad and Tobago for over 15 years.

During the launch, Gupte Lutchmedial, who provides a crucial linkage among the various organisations involved, acknowledged the generous support of the management of La Soufriere Maritime Ltd, which is providing storage and berthing facilities for the boat in Chaguaramas at a discounted rate. He mentioned that in addition, the organisations were extremely fortunate to benefit from the waiving of registration fees for use of this facility. A special thank you was given to Budget Marine Trinidad which gave discounts for the boat equipment and has donated the communication radio on the boat.

The launching of this boat is just the first step in covering the island as very soon another boat will be commissioned for the east coast of Trinidad. As explained by Lutchmedial, “The prevalence of whale strandings in the Manzanilla and Mayaro areas demand that we be in a state of preparedness for any future incidents which may occur in these parts.” As a reminder, in early 2009, there were at least three strandings in this area. Two melon-headed whales were stranded in Mayaro and Manzanilla and another species which could not be identified due to its advanced state of decomposition, washed ashore dead in Guayaguayare.

With Rescue One ready to respond to distress calls, the stage is set to strengthen operations for the rescue and rehabilitation of marine animals, especially whales and dolphins. The public can report any sightings of marine animals in distress to the Hotline at 622-5344 or 622-3530.

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