The Blue Tempeh
Monday, May 22, 2006
  Singapore Sightings! DOLPHINS & DUGONGS!
One day, I went to cut my hair. I know it seems like this has nothing to do with Dolphins or Dugongs in Singapore, but just read on for a bit. SO! One day, I went to cut my hair. And while chatting with the hairdresser, I found out that she liked the sea as much as I do. I told her about my studying marine biology and she started to tell me about her snorkling trips and beach/sea holidays. She told me how she loves dolphins and how she went ALL THE WAY to Australia just to see dolphins in the wild! She recounted to me the way the dolphins were breaching and jumping out of the water and how they were so elegant and cute and wonderful and just so lovable. You could see she was getting quite excited because she kept waving her comb and scissors randomly above my head, trying to reenact the the dolphin movements. Frankly, I rather feared for the end result of my haircut. But it WAS Mahogany (there was a good student deal back then!), and I guess it would have been OK with me if my new haircut was a dolphin inspired one...

Then I told her. I told her, that just that last week, I had seen a port of dolphins off Sisters' islands, a couple of Singapore's southern islands. Silence. No more frantic scissor-comb combos. Then she pointed the comb at me and said accusingly, "YOU BRUFF ME, RIGHT! Singapore water where got dolphins want to come and stay!"

"GOOOOOOOTTTT!!!!" I replied. It was my turn to recount that fateful day when I saw my first port of dolphins in Singapore while she, thankfully, continued to cut my hair. And so we chatted and chatted. And she cut and cut. And when I was done with my stories about what else I've seen in Singapore waters, she was done with the best hair cut I've ever had!

I have NEVER EVER liked any haircut anyone has given me. I would always think that something was wrong somewhere and would continue hating it for another few weeks or so. But not with this one. It was REALLY REALLY great. Well, at least I thought it was really great anyway. For once, I was HAPPY with the haircut right from the start. That was in mid 2004. Two years and many dolphin sightings later, I still have the same hairstyle and my hairdresser is pregnant and telling me how she can't wait to show her kids dolphins.

Anyway, what I was trying to share with you is, in not so many words, Singapore waters is also home to DOLPHINS! More stories of dolphin sightings HERE. The most common dolphin we have here in our waters is the Indo-Pacific Hump-backed dolphins (Sousa Chinensis). Also known as the Pink Dolphin, Chinese White Dolphin, White Dolphin, Borneon White Dolphin, Lead-coloured Dolphin etc. Despite their varied colouration and common names, these dolphins are considered to belong to the same species of Indo-Pacific Hump-backed dolphins.

The Hump-backed dolphins usually occur in groups of ~3-8 animals, but aggregations of >20 has been seen before. These dolphins are shyer than their relative the Bottlenose dolphins, but they can be playful; breaching, slapping surface with their flippers or flukes, lifting heads clear of the water etc. They're also shy of boats, and do not "ride" alongside boats. Little is known about their reproduction, but gestation period has been suggested to be from 10-12 mths. They prey mainly on species that live on or near the ocean bottom and are associated with reefs or brackish waters of estuaries - including small fish, squid & octopus. (content taken from the "Guide to marine Mammals of the World" by the National Audubon Society)

Hump-backed dolphins do not usually get stranded. These dolphins are known to make their home in shallow waters over mudflats and reef flats, even entering mangroves and is said to be able to hump its way over mudbanks to deeper waters should it get stranded (Sigurdsson & Yang, 1990).


So, it was a rather interesting situation we found ourselves in when, after dinner last night, Zeehan got a phone call alerting us of a dolphin carcass beached up along the Marina South breakwater. It had been a long day already by then, what with Reef Friends survey dive at Semakau (currents, bad visibility, rain, thunder, lightning, confusion), and a pigging out session at NYDC. But upon hearing the news of the dolphin carcass, we (Zeehan, myself, Abby and Safia) got excited and rallied down to the Lab to put together a dolphin carcass "investigation" kit before heading down to the Carcass Scene. Our CSI (Carcass Scene Investigation) kit included torches, sample bottles (for tissue samples), alcohol, bags, face masks, a guide book, booties, knife and Abby's perfume (we expected the worst for carcass stench - which was not really that much in the end).

The dolphin carcass

Notice the ribs of the dolphin sticking out of the long cut from its side (just behind the visible flipper).

Here is and account by Zeehan of the dolphin carcass find:
"We arrived at about 8pm at Marina South and the tide was rising. The dolphin was fast being covered by the incoming tide. Dr Chua, Ashley and Jani took photographs. The beak of the carcass caused it to be lodged amongst the rocks at the breakwater. It looked like a female carcass (1.8m from beak to tail) of the Indo Pacific Humpback Dolphin with a long longitudinal (down from forelimb to tail) laceration on its ventral (front) side. It was most likely hit by a boat propeller. It was also very decomposed, hardly any blubber or tissue left but not very smelly. We dislodged the beak and took more photos. The lower jaw was broken and all meat/tissue was already gone from the beak. Some ribs were jutting out of the frame and many superficial lacerations all over the body especially on the head (as pointed out by May Li) but these could be due to the carcass being tossed about by the waves. The initial plan was to salvage whatever we could especially tissue sample but the carcass was badly decomposed, probably more than a week and the tissue integrity would have been poor. In the event that the carcass is fresh, it would be a great opportunity to obtain tissue samples as RMBR (Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research) is setting up a tissue bank."

Zeehan trying to dislodge the dolphin from the breakwater and straighten it up for its length measurement.

From beak to tail: ~1.8m.

The Hump-backed dolphins (Sousa chinensis) are not the only kind of dolphins that have been sighted in Singapore. Other dolphins such as the Bottle-nosed dolphin (Turniops truncatus) and the Irrawady dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris) have also been occassionally sighted in our waters. Other marine mammals sighted in Singapore waters include the Finless porpoise (Neophocaena phocaenoides) and the DUGONG (Dugong dugon).


In fact, just LAST WEDNESDAY (18 May 2006), a dugong was sighted at Chek Jawa. A contractor for the board walk being constructed at Chek Jawa had reported seeing a dugong surfacing while at work. This report is an exciting one since it's been some time since the last live sighting of a dugong (1998)! Villagers who used to live by the coasts of Pulau Ubin said that they would often get "visits" from families of dugongs. It's not surprising since P. Ubin has one of the last standing crops of seagrasses, the food of the dugongs. Sadly, however, the contractor also mentioned that he saw some sort of net around the dugong's neck.

Although there are no records of any whales sighted in Singapore, there has been a whalebone whale reported from Singapore waters (Sigurdsson & Yang, 1990). Although there are no official records, Mr. Loh, our trusty bumboat-man, has related to us how one fine day long time ago when we was younger, he saw a WHALE of a shadow (pun intended) next to his boat as he was driving his boat around Singapore waters. The animal, whose shadow indicated that it was as big as the bumboat, did not breach the surface but stayed alongside the boat for some time before disappearing. Mr. Loh also recounted how he had felt very nervous for himself and his boat (for which he had taken a loan from his dad to pay).

Link to the Habitatnews blog for more dolphin sightings (with stories, photos and video):

my dad claims to have seen whales in our waters before while he was fishing in the nearby waters. but of course we're talking about 10-20 years ago :x
Will RMBR be keeping the dolphin's skeleton and exhibit it in their museum?
Whahaha...and turtles. Are you going to do a turtle post? :)
Very interesting. I wonder if offshore species like striped, pantropical, spinner and common dolphins are to be found in Singaporean waters as well. Or the larger baleen whales and sperm whales.

And let's not forget the false killer whale that wound up in Tuas for a few days before it died.
hi.. are you still active in diving in SG waters?
One of the things I've wanted to do my entire life is to see dolphins in the wild, they look free and unconcerned. The same feeling I have now that I can count on my dose of Viagra Online.
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