The study hopes to create greater awareness and understanding of wild dolphins in Singapore waters, so as to better protect them in their natural habitat.
ACRES believes that dolphins in Singapore waters have never been studied in detail before, and there is a need to understand what they do, where they go, and how many there are, so that adequate protection can be given to ensure that they thrive and survive into the future.
For the next two years, two full-time ACRES researchers – one with a Masters in Marine Biology and the other with a degree in Zoology and Conservation Biology- will be studying the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus) and Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins (Sousa chinensis).
The study, to be conducted solely by ACRES, will be carried out in waters surrounding the Southern Islands and in Singapore’s first marine park – the Sister’s Island Marine Park. It will gather data on population numbers, distribution, home range and behaviours of the dolphins and seeks to understand the potential threats they face.
“Not many Singaporeans may know that there are dolphins in our waters, but recently several sightings have been reported and shared on social media. We hope that through this study, we can further increase awareness and understanding of these species. The data collected will also be vital in developing conservation strategies to protect these dolphins” said Isabelle Tan, dolphin researcher at ACRES.
The plans to establish dolphin watching tours is also a step towards inspiring individuals to do their bit to protect the oceans by allowing them to see dolphins in their natural habitat.
“We are confident that if people learn about and see dolphins living freely in the wild, they will never want to see them in captivity,” said Mr Louis Ng, Chief Executive of ACRES.
Mr Ng also said that the tours will not be a commercial venture, and will be headed by ACRES. “All profits will be channelled back towards animal protection, so it will be more of a social enterprise,” he said.
ACRES hopes that the change in mindset would mean the beginning of the end of the captive dolphin industry in Asia, and an end to the suffering of captive dolphins.
Singaporeans have also expressed greater concerns for dolphins. In a public survey of 600 people, conducted by Millward Brown in January 2015, only 7% of Singaporeans agreed that the practice of keeping wild-caught dolphins in captivity should be allowed.
ACRES acknowledged, however, that people are keen to see dolphins, and the aim of the tours is to bring people to see dolphins in the wild, displaying natural behaviours, instead of in a captive environment.
The tours will follow strict ethical guidelines to ensure that the welfare of the wild dolphins is not compromised.
ACRES has also launched an online fundraising campaign for the project for people to donate to the cause.
The group will also be at Asia Dive Expo from 10 to 12 April, held at Suntec City, to give more details about the project. ADEX 2015 is dedicated to dolphins.