Whales, dolphins and other marine mammals remain at the forefront of our imagination. On the one hand, we would have read about the thousands that were brutally killed in whaling operations. On the other, given their sociality and interaction with humans, many of us have read anecdotal accounts of their ‘friendliness’ and intelligence. But though they have been part of human folklore and mythology for centuries or even millennia, most of us rarely if ever get to see them in the wild. Personally, a chance encounter with a humpback whale off the west coast of Mexico, slapping the water with its tail fluke less than 50 metres from our boat, is not a sight I am likely to forget.
While marine ecology lags behind terrestrial ecology in many tropical and developing countries, marine mammal research is often even further behind due to logistic constraints and the financial resources required. In India, for example, there has been little in-depth research on marine mammals, with most studies based on strandings, land based sightings and infrequent ship board surveys. In this issue, Dipani Sutaria gives us a perspective of her research in Chilika, tracing the development of her ideas from a focus on biology to the interactions between the people and the dolphins and
development, towards finding conservation solutions. Elrika D’ Souza writes about her work on the foraging ecology of dugongs in the Andaman Islands, and Diya Das interviews her about a recent publication. Kathleen Stafford and Mark Baumgartner write about methods for studying marine mammals and the role that such research plays in conservation. We also carry a photo-essay on Areng Valley, a biologically rich area in Cambodia, which has recently been threatened by development projects. - Kartik Shanker