Sustainable Lens
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Dolphins:communities

Tara Whitty

I don’t come in saying “hi guys, I know you’re struggling to survive, let’s save the dolphins”.

For me it has become as much about understanding and helping these communities as it is about helping the animals.

Tara Whitty describes herself as an aspiring ecologist, conservationist, do-gooder and wanderer. She is also a PhD student at the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
Tara has developed an interdisciplinary approach, “mapping conservation-scapes,” synthesizing methods from ecology and social sciences. Conservation-scapes are the set of factors composing a conservation situation, encompassing: how human activity overlaps with and impacts organisms; sociocultural and economic drivers of human activity; and governance structure and potential for management. Tara is applying these conservation-scapes to developing an understanding of Irrawaddy dolphins in Malampaya Sound (The Philippines) and Guimaras Strait, Philippines; Trat coastline, Thailand; Mahakam River, Indonesia.

Talking points:

The over-arching issue is how do we look at fisheries management in a way that might contribute to dolphin conservation.

Socio-ecological systems: Systems that involve links an interactions between complex human systems and complex natural systems

I hesitate to distinguish between human systems and ecosystems. Ecosystem based management explicitly states that humans are part of ecosystems.

I’d like to see an set of social-environmental metrics…so we can rate sites based on social cohesion, community engagement, strength of enforcement…develop sets of profiles.

We can learn from areas such as public-health, they’ve had a long history of balancing collecting information and taking action.

The dolphins are not doing OK, they are being caught as by-catch at an unsustainable rate

Sometimes I would forget I was working on dolphins, because I was looking at very entangled issues of fisheries management, and those will take a long time to fix. Even if it doesn’t save the dolphins, it’s worthwhile doing it but you’re going to hopefully improve the ecosystem as a whole, including to improve human livelihoods. But realistically speaking I don’t think it is going to happen in time for these dolphins unless some serious triage efforts happen quickly.

Tara Whitty was in Dunedin as as part of the Biennial Conference of the Marine Mammals Society. Her talk was titled “Mapping conservation-scapes of Irrawaddy dolphins (Orcaella brevirostris) and small-scale fisheries in Southeast Asia: An interdisciplinary approach”.

After we recorded this session, Tara was awarded the J. Stephen Leatherwood Memorial Award for the most outstanding student presentation on marine mammals of South and Southeast Asia, with particular emphasis on conservation. Congratulations Tara.

This is the fourth in the Sustainable Lens #whaleofasummer series recorded during the Biennial Conference of the Marine Mammals Society.

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