Killer whale sighting reinforces importance of Semporna waters

The orcas sighted at Pulau Sipadan in January 2021 (Photo credit: Arapat Abdurahim)

KOTA KINABALU: The recent sighting of four killer whales or orca in waters around Sabah’s famed Pulau Sipadan has reinforced Semporna’s importance for marine mammals.

Footage of two adult orcas and two calves swimming to the north of Sipadan was captured and posted on social media by Scuba Junkie dive master Arapat Abdurahim last month.

One of the adults was recorded lobtailing (tail slapping the water surface) which according to marine biologists is the way these mammal communicate.

“It is not unusual for our guests to see marine mammals on their way to Sipadan or on the south side of Kapalai, ” he said.

“Quite often, it is dolphins – but on other occasions we are treated to rarer species such as the orcas sighted last week, melon headed whales and even sperm whales.

“It is incredibly exciting for guests and staff to spot a marine mammal on the surface as it contributes to the body of research on rarely seen species. For example in 2017, when we reported the first confirmed sighting of dwarf sperm whales in Malaysia, ” Arapat said in a statement made available yesterday by Scuba Junkie S.E.A.S, a marine conservation organisation.

The organisation is working with researchers to gather data on marine mammals in the area.

As incredible as this sighting was, he said it was not uncommon for the Semporna region, which had been identified as a key part of the Western Celebes Sea Drop Off “Area Of Interest”.

The area has been designated by the IUCN Marine Mammals Protected Areas Task Force because of the high number of marine mammal sightings reported there in the media, and on tourism and nature forums.

Dr Lindsay Porter from the Society of Marine Mammalogy (SMM), which provides funding for the study of whales, dolphins and porpoise in this region, said the partnership with Scuba Junkie S.E.A.S had enabled training to be given to local dive operator staff.

“This has helped enormously in documenting other species with certainty. It is exciting to see this species in the Sipadan area and to have the diving community engage so enthusiastically with our study, ” she said.

“For many of the marine mammal species seen in the Semporna region, their use of the area is still unknown. It may be seasonal, to fulfil critical aspects of lifecycle patterns, for example shelter for mothers and young calves – such as the orca last week – or transient, as part of a migration route or larger oceanic passages, ” added Dr Porter.

Scuba Junkie S.E.A.S conservation manager David McCann said they were happy to work in collaboration with researchers and other NGOs to further understanding of the unique marine environment in the Semporna region.

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