Prior to the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act of 2001, it was a government recommendation to leave stranded cetaceans on the beach because of the absence of a rescue facility and lack of technical expertise in handling sick or injured marine mammals. Stranding responses by concerned groups were largely limited to pushing live animals to deeper waters. In fact, necropsy was not a directive nor was euthanasia a clear option.
A privately-owned marine theme park, Ocean Adventure, was established in the same year and conducted its first stranding response in 2003. Since then, this facility has become the rehabilitation center for many stranded cetaceans representing 11 species from nearby localities. Ocean Adventure also became the primary facility for necropsy and diagnosis, utilizing its expertise and material and manpower resources. Diseases of free-ranging cetaceans in Philippine waters have been diagnosed for the first time. These activities became venues for collaboration with the government, non-profit groups, academic institutions, and local communities to pursue the formation of a Philippine Marine Mammal Stranding Network.
Stranding responses raised legal, ethical, and cultural questions on conservation and animal welfare issues. Existing regulations and the role of government regulatory agencies were re-examined. The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) of the Department of Agriculture is the primary government agency for cetacean management and conservation. With offices in the municipal and regional levels, the need to train people for stranding response became apparent. With funding from The SeaWorld Busch Gardens Conservation Fund, a formal workshop on Cetacean Stranding Response for BFAR and local governmental staff was first offered in 2005 and continues to be offered one to two times a year. This Workshop is at the core of efforts to develop the nation-wide Stranding Network. The response to a mass stranding of Melon-headed Whales (Peponocephala electra) in Manila Bay in February of this year showcases the positive effects of the institutional collaborations and trainings held during the previous years.
The authors wish to thank SeaWorld and Busch Gardens for the financial support to the cetacean stranding response workshops, and the tireless efforts of the Zoological Operations Department of Ocean Adventure. Special thanks are also extended to Dr. Michael B. Briggs and Dr. Robert C. Braun for very important veterinary inputs during the stranding events.