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Whales and Dolphins of the Maldives

The waters of the Maldives are part of the International Whaling Commission’s Indian Ocean Sanctuary and have recorded 23 species of cetacean (Anderson et al. 2012), which are protected under Maldivian law. The order Cetacea comprises wholly marine mammals and includes whales, dolphins and porpoises. The order Cetacea is divided into two extant sub-orders: Mysticeti, the baleen whales and Odontoceti, the toothed whales. The baleen whales are considered filter feeders as they posses hundreds of plates of baleen which are used to filter out water and catch prey. The toothed whales have the ability to echolocate, they produce sound, to navigate their surroundings and to hunt prey. The spinner dolphin is the most frequently observed cetacean (Anderson et al. 2012) and the target of most dolphin watching trips. Spinner dolphins follow a distinctive daily pattern whereby they travel into the atoll in the morning to rest during the day and then travel back out of the atoll around sunset to hunt at night. This lecture will identify the 23 whale and dolphin species found in the Maldives; review their biology, ecology and behaviour; and discuss the threat of disturbance from boats and the guidelines to follow when observing them.

Further Reading

  • Anderson, R.C., Sattar, S.A. & Adam, M.S. 2012 Cetaceans in the Maldives: a review. J. Cetacean Res. Manage. 12(2): 219-225
  • Arcangeli, A. & Crosti, R. (2009) The short-term impact of dolphin-watching on the behaviour of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in western Australia. Journal of Marine Animals and Their Ecology, 2: 7pp.
  • Caldwell, M. C. & Caldwell, D. K. (1965) Individualized whistle contours in bottlenosed dolphins (Tursiops truncatus). Nature 207, 434–435.
  • Constantine, R., Brunton, D.H. & Dennis, T. (2004) Dolphin-watching tour boats changes bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) behaviour. Biological Conservation 117: 299-307
  • Stamation, K.A., Croft, D.B., Shaughnessy, P.D., Waples, K.A. & Brigss, S.V. (2010) Behavioural response of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) to whale-watching vessels on the southeastern coast of Australia. Marine Mammal Science, 26 (1): 98-122.

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