Dive into world of sea mammals


The Whale Truck is travelling to 10 different cities and towns in Perak, Penang, Kedah and Perlis until Aug 7. — Photos courtesy of The MareCet Research Organisation

Whale Truck heading up north to deliver mobile education about marine life and conservation

A LOCAL marine research and conservation group is going on a nationwide tour to create awareness of Malaysia’s marine mammals with its one-of-a-kind “Whale Truck”.

The MareCet Research Organisation (MareCet) will be heading to the northern region of Peninsular Malaysia with its Whales On-The-Wheels Mobile Marine Education Nationwide Tour starting today.

The team will be in Perak, Penang, Kedah and Perlis with its fully decked-out truck for this leg of the tour, following its successful first tour in February.

The nationwide tour is going to all 11 states and two Federal Territories in Peninsular Malaysia throughout 2022 and 2023.

MareCet executive director Dr Louisa Ponnampalam said the mobile marine education programme was intended to promote awareness about the ocean, Malaysia’s marine mammals, marine life and ecosystems, as well as marine conservation issues.

“More than half of our visitors were surprised to learn that there are marine mammals in the waters of Malaysia.

Children learning about Malaysia’s marine ecosystem from MareCet’s researchers and volunteers.Children learning about Malaysia’s marine ecosystem from MareCet’s researchers and volunteers.

“Many of them were even more surprised to hear about how extensive the current marine pollution problem is in Malaysia, and how inextricably interconnected humans are to the ocean,” she said.

The programme was inspired by The Whale Bus programme hosted by the Marine Mammal Centre in California, United States.

“I loved this idea and thought to myself that I hope someday we could do something similar here in Malaysia.

“I held on to this dream of going on a nationwide tour, whereby the MareCet team could reach out to people from all around the country and tell them about marine mammals, their habitats while fostering a sense of sea stewardship amongst the people.

“When the opportunity came to apply for project funding, I thought why not try to incorporate the Whales On-The-Wheels nationwide tour into the proposal, and fortunately, here we are today, about to embark on leg two of the tour,” she shared.

The programme is sponsored by Yayasan Sime Darby (YSD).

Established in 2012, MareCet is a non-profit organisation dedicated solely to the research and conservation of marine mammals in Malaysia.

Visitors viewing various forms of marine skeletons.Visitors viewing various forms of marine skeletons.

It focuses on increasing scientific knowledge through research, conservation-based outreach and education, strengthening policies and developing local capacity for this field of work.Louisa said the team treated the first leg of the tour as a trial-and- error lesson, figuring out what worked and what did not before adjusting and making improvements for its subsequent tours.

“Gauging from the reactions of the visitors to our whale truck, I believe everyone enjoyed the event, with kids and adults alike going away with new knowledge and information that they did not have prior to stepping aboard our truck.”

The first part of the tour in Negri Sembilan, Melaka and Johor saw the team travelling 760km across nine locations in 10 days, reaching out to over 700 visitors through 100 hours of exhibition.

The majority of visitors were local families, with 70% of them being children between the ages of five and 15.

“We are thrilled to be travelling to the northern region of Peninsular Malaysia as three out of four of these states are where MareCet’s project sites are located.

“Since 2016, we have been surveying the waters off Kedah and Perlis under our flagship Langkawi Dolphin Research Project to study the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins, Irrawaddy dolphins and Indo-Pacific finless porpoises.

MareCet hopes to create awareness about conservation issues.MareCet hopes to create awareness about conservation issues.

“We also have the Matang Dolphin Research Project that began in 2013, which focuses on the same three cetacean (any member of an entirely aquatic group of mammals) species in the coastal waters and environment of Matang, Perak.

“It is at this same project site where we conduct our Matang edu-tours to provide visitors the opportunity to experience what dolphin research is like,” Louisa said.

For the exhibition in Penang, the MareCet is teaming up with Langur Project Penang, an outreach research project on the ecology, behaviour and road ecology of Dusky Langurs, and ADA Biotech (creator of edible rice straws that is harmless to the environment and marine life).

The third leg of the tour is scheduled for October in Langkawi, Kedah, where they will be partnering with The Habitat Foundation.

The Whale Truck featured at the travelling exhibition is a box truck decked out with various educational materials and exhibits exploring different marine topics.

During the first leg of the nationwide tour, the crowd favourite was the “Marine Mammals Alive” exhibit, where visitors got to dive into the world of marine mammals in Malaysia at the curated photo and skeleton gallery, learn the importance of sound to dolphins and porpoises, and listen to the sounds produced by various species of marine mammals such as the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin, dugong, humpback whale and even the Weddell seal.

Many are unaware that there are marine mammals in the waters of Malaysia, such as spinner dolphins spotted in waters off Kedah coast.Many are unaware that there are marine mammals in the waters of Malaysia, such as spinner dolphins spotted in waters off Kedah coast.

Visitors also had the opportunity to engage with MareCet’s highly experienced dolphin researchers and gain insights into research and conservation work that the organisation does in the country.

The tour featured an immersive “Be A Dolphin Researcher” experience corner, and a “Mini Marine Laboratory” showcasing preserved real-life marine specimens and small marine specimen samples under the microscope.

The second leg of the tour to the northern region of Peninsular Malaysia will feature the same exhibits with a few exciting additions.

Meanwhile, YSD chief executive officer Dr Yatela Zainal Abidin remarked, “For far too long, most Malaysians have been very disengaged from knowledge of the ocean.

“This educational travelling exhibition has given children, youth, and even adults the opportunity to learn and engage proactively towards defending our precious marine ecosystems and megafauna.

“Our collaboration with MareCet is critical as its work goes a long way in showcasing the numerous, colourful and precious marine life living in our oceans. It shows the delicate balance that binds marine life with us in the continuous initiative for climate action.”

The second leg of Whales On-The-Wheels is taking place from today to Aug 7 with the Whale Truck travelling to 10 different cities and towns in Perak, Penang, Kedah and Perlis.

The full schedule of the second Whales On-The-Wheels tour will be announced on MareCet’s social media accounts.

Entry to visit the Whales On-The-Wheels exhibition is free.

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