3 Months in Review

281 household interviews.

54 dolphin sightings. (Despite numerous typhoons and monsoon weather).

12 key informant interviews.

4 outreach programs. (photos from the 3rd & 4th here).

3 months.

It’s been a great, inspirational few months of fieldwork in Malampaya Sound.  I hadn’t kept up with this blog as much as I’d hoped (being busy with, well, fieldwork), but…I have a lot of posts started in my mind…

Next up: off to Indonesia to do some groundwork for next year’s field season there, and then back to San Diego for meetings and family time before returning to the Philippines! Below are some thoughts/updates about the dolphins and the interviews:


Confession: Line transect surveys are my least favorite type of fieldwork. And I miss fieldwork where I can regularly see more of the animals than their backs and tails.  But…I do love photo-ID, and the dolphins are fascinating.

One thing that puzzles me about the dolphins is how differently they’ll react to our boat on different days.  Some days, they’re elusive, possibly avoiding our boat, traveling quickly and jumping away.  Other days, they mill about, seemingly indifferent to our presence, coming to within 5 meters of the boat or even swimming under it.  As far as I can tell (haven’t looked closely at the photos yet), the same individuals were present in groups that exhibit different reactions.  Often, the spooked groups have at least one calf…but we’ve also seen calves relatively close to the boat.

We had a frustrating few days during our last week of fieldwork, where strong winds made sightings really tricky (I went for 3 days without seeing a dolphin, which is pretty unusual).  I was worried about the quality of those surveys, and stressed about being able to get enough sample days for the month.  Days like that find me asking, “Where the hell are those dolphins?!”  Which is, essentially, one of my main research questions.

Fortunately, we had two days of no wind and fantastic sightings to wrap up that week and to collect enough data for October.

Where have you guys BEEN?!?!

Bought another dSLR (Canon EOS 60D) to use alongside my “old” Canon EOS 50D.  I’d had some problems with my 300mm lens (trouble communicating with the camera, so sluggish response time), so Bob Pitman at SWFSC sent me another one (thanks, Bob!).  Though one of them isn’t in great shape, having 2 lenses means that we could have another person doing photo-ID – which is nice, because the waddies often disperse into small sub-groups, so we can have each camera focused on a different sub-group.

Tela capturing dolphins

Archie capturing dolphins

After training them and reviewing their interviews, I’m confident that my field assistants are conducting the household interviews in a standardized way.  Having Cristela, Archie, and Zion focused on those (my “Rapid Bycatch and Socioeconomic Assessment” surveys) allowed me to start more detailed, “key informant” interviews, with Ely as the facilitator/interpreter.  I chose Ely for this because he has the most experience and expertise with Malampaya Sound fisheries management (he has worked with the Protected Area Office and WWF-Philippines). I can ask some questions in Tagalog, but fully understanding the long, detailed responses is still beyond my Tagalog skills.

Understanding how management works (or doesn’t work, depending on your view) in Malampaya has been confusing.  It’s a national Protected Area, and the Protected Area Office is charged with monitoring and enforcement.  But they also partner with the municipal government.  And there are various other bodies related to the barangay and provincial goverment engaged (…or not engaged, depending on your view) in patrolling, as well as NGO activity (past and present).  It’s been really interesting to talk to different people involved with management, and to hear the various concerns and theories that emerge through the interviews – corruption, lack of funding, poverty…  It’ll be really interesting to figure out how to present these results to the municipal and provincial government when I’m done…calls for some cautious diplomacy.  I’ll write more about this in a future post.

We’ve also interviewed older members of the native Tagbanua tribe (let go of any romantic visions of traditional, isolated native peoples…they are integrated into the modern fishing village life).  Listening to them talk about Malampaya Sound circa the 1930s takes me away as I imagine bounties of huge fish and large groups of dolphins frolicking close to shore.  Their responses are always tinged with sadness and with resigned humor about the situation.

When we resume these interviews in December, I’m hoping to also record more Local Ecological Knowledge (LEK) about the dolphins, past and present.


So, that’s a very rambling, very incomplete summary.  My trusty field assistants will conduct some more household surveys and 2 more outreach activities during my absence in November.  Already looking forward to my return to Taytay!