Despite the numerous and major advances in marine science in Indonesia and tropical Australasia, the lack of information on the ecology and conservation status of whales, dolphins and dugong (Dugong dugon) and their associated coastal and offshore habitats – is one of the largest ‘knowledge gaps’ concerning the marine biology of this exceptionally diverse part of the world (Kahn 2008).
The Banda – Ceram Sea Marine Mammal Rapid Ecological Assessment (REA) started to address this regional data deficiency on marine mammal biodiversity and has become the first comprehensive visual and acoustic survey of cetaceans (whales and dolphins) in the Banda – Ceram Sea.
To the south of the Banda Sea, in the neighboring Savu Sea, which has received more survey attention from 2001 – 2015, a total of 22 species of marine mammals (Kahn 2014) have been identified to date. Whereas to the north of the Ceram Sea, in Raja Ampat, Papua several years of survey work from 2011 – 2015 resulted in the identification of 18 marine mammal species (Kahn 2015). Compiling a comprehensive species list for marine mammals inhabiting the Banda – Ceram Seas is a major biodiversity assessment outcome for this marine mammal REA.
In addition to its biodiversity objectives, this REA also identifies preferred and critical deep-sea habitats for oceanic whales and dolphins, with an emphasis on priority species such as the blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus). The Banda Sea is a known destination for a (sub) population of blue whales, which migrate from the Southern Ocean off Australia to Indonesian waters via the migratory passages of the Lesser Sundas and Timor-Leste.
This marine mammal REA has provided a significant contribution to our scientific understanding of the “Deep Banda Sea” through data gathered from the marine mammal species identification and habitat usage. In addition, this REA provides valuable information that will assist on-going Marine Spatial Planning in Maluku Province including the development of new Marine Protected Area (MPA) networks.