A ‘spot’ for nature lovers in Penang

GEORGE TOWN: Here’s another item to add on your “to do” list in Penang – dolphin watching.

Although there is no guaranteed sighting as it depends very much on the weather, travellers can take it as a chance to learn about the conservation of these endangered marine mammals.

Species such as the Irrawaddy dolphins, Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins, finless porpoise and to a lesser extent, the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins, have been spotted in Penang, mostly in the northwest of the island near Teluk Bahang, Teluk Aling and Sungai Pinang.

They are also occasionally seen swimming near the second Penang bridge.

This is according to Universiti Sains Malaysia’s (USM) Centre for Marine and Coastal Studies (Cemacs), which has been monitoring the dolphin population in Penang for years.

Cemacs conservation biologist Dr Leela Rajamani said: “We estimate the population of Irrawaddy dolphins to be between 32 and 43, while the humpback dolphins have been seen as a pod of 20 to 50.

“Nature lovers can spot them by taking a boat out to Sungai Pinang in Balik Pulau,” she said.

Leela said there was no best month for dolphin watching as the weather played a big role in their appearance.

However, she warned against unsupervised or mass tourist visits, especially when dealing with endangered species.

“These animals are present in small numbers and are already facing many threats on their survival.

“There should be a standard operating procedure for watching dolphins in terms of capacity,” she said.

On Jan 1, Tourism Malaysia northern region director Ahmad Husni Ahmad Basri said habitats of the aquatic mammals had been found on the western coast of the Penang island.

“Along the coast from Teluk Bahang to Balik Pulau, we have found several spots of dolphin habitat. The Irrawaddy and bottlenose species feed on eel-tail catfishes by decapitating the catfish’s head to avoid the skull spines.

“USM researchers are still conducting studies on the dolphins and we intend to have a tourist programme for dolphin sighting,” he said.

“Tour packages to see them will be part of eco-tourism promotion which includes glamping and cycling in Balik Pulau,” he said.

This year, Penang is anticipating more than 8.3 million tourist arrivals.

Penang Tourism Development, Arts, Culture and Heritage committee chairman Yeoh Soon Hin said the number would be an increase of 10% from last year.

“Till November last year, Penang recorded 4.16 million international and 3.39 million domestic passenger traffic at the Penang International Airport,” he said.


Source: The Star Online