Using citizen science to study whales and dolphins in Vietnamese waters

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Orcaella brevirostris
Irrawaddy dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris). Photo by Long Vu.

This project aims to acquire and mobilize georeferenced data on whales, dolphins and porpoises along the entire coast of Vietnam.

Using a multidisciplinary approach the project team will consolidate data on cetacean diversity, abundance and distrubution in Vietnam from three main sources: 1) the numerous cetacean bones in collections stored in fishing villages along the Vietnamese coast; 2) the vast information on human-cetacean interactions available on Vietnamese social media; and 3) opportunistic cetacean sightings reported from our citizen science program.

The goal of the project is a primer for the first comprehensive database for cetaceans in Vietnam, a country that has an enormous gap in information regarding marine mammals. This lack of information is the main challenge to conservation effort for cetaceans inhabiting Vietnamese waters from emerging anthropological threats. Results from our project will provide a robust baseline for various applications in conservation management (e.g. marine protected area planning, stranding response network, bycatch mitigation).

Project progress
During the early phase of the project, 154 whale temples were located of which 21 were visited, resulting in 165 skulls of cetacean (and dugongs) being documented and digitized. In parallel the project was able to consolidate cetaceans stranding data from Viet Nam social media, including 189 stranding cases documented along the Vietnamese coast.

The project has now published the first databases of cetacean occurrences along the Vietnamese coast from whale temples and stranding data. It has also published the following papers:

  • Whale temples are unique repositories for understanding marine mammal diversity in Central Vietnam (November 2021) DOI: 10.26107/RBZ-2021-0066
  • New Records of Fraser’s Dolphin (Lagenodelphis hosei) from the Whale Temples and Fishing Communities of Vietnam (July 2020), DOI:10.1578/AM.46.4.2020.395

During the project implementation, the team established a collaborating network between the Center for Biodiversity Conservation and Endangered Species (CBES), Smithsonian Institution, San Francisco State University fishery departments of 10 provinces, staff of two marine protected areas and 15 enthusiasts in Viet Nam. Work to develop the citizen science mobile app which will connect information on human-cetacean interaction in Viet Nam with the CBES and GBIF database, has also begun.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic project implementation has been delayed. Restrictions on international travel have also affected project collaboration. To overcome these challenges the project team has adapted where possible, such as by using Facebook and other online tools for outreach and communication activities and continues to monitor project progress to implement the project and its planned activities.

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Duration
13 July 2020 - 31 December 2022
Project identifier
BIFA5_027
Contact details

Long Vu
Center for Biodiversity Conservation and Endangered Species
541 Nguyen Duy Trinh street
Ho chi Minh city 70000
Viet Nam