WCS has been at the heart of marine mammal research and conservation in Gabon and Central Africa since the late 1990’s. We have consistently worked with government and environmental groups to better understand key aspects of whale and dolphin population sizes, population linkages, threats, migratory patterns, behaviour and their critical habitats. We collect individual identification data from whales which include the patterns on their tails as well as individual genotypes extracted from genetic samples. These can be used to estimate population size as well clarify aspects of individual life history. We have used satellite tagging (telemetry) to learn about migratory patterns both in the Gulf of Guinea that includes Gabon, as well identify migratory routes to sub-Antarctic waters of the Southern Ocean. Genetic data have revealed linkages and divisions between the population of whales visiting Gabon with other humpback whale populations in the Southern Hemisphere. This includes the identification of a distinct humpback whale population that feeds off the west coast of South Africa.
We work with oil and gas prospection companies to improve avoidance and minimisation of impacts on marine wildlife. We are training a team of Gabonese marine mammal observers to improve national capacity to reduce impacts from seismic surveys during petroleum exploration. This is combined with our work training fisheries observers which will also aims to reduce fisheries bycatch of dolphins and other marine wildlife.
Genetic data collected by WCS from the rare Atlantic humpback dolphin in Gabon and at from other species of humpback dolphins at other sites in the Indo-Pacific region have been used to describe a new species of humpback dolphin in Australia. More recent initiatives include the development of innovative techniques to estimate population sizes, rates of occupancy and habitat use patterns of humpback dolphins in the waters of Gabon and Congo. This species is very hard to detect as it lives in the surf zone, so counting and studying them can be very difficult, but essential if they are to be effectively monitored.
WCS conservationists ensure that their work in the field is translated into management decisions at national and international levels, including strong representation at the International Whaling Commission and a very strong track record of publication of scientific results in prominent journals. The Gabon Bleu marine conservation initiative of the Government of Gabon aims to: reorganise fisheries, improve management of the offshore oil industry and create a network of marine protected areas. WCS’s work with marine mammals is at the heart of Gabon Bleu and we contribute all relevant marine mammal data as well expertise.