Fish washed ashore due to oceanographic conditions – UMS researcher

Borneo Post, 26 Dec 2013

KOTA KINABALU: The presence of a large number of sardines (Ikan Tamban) in Tambisan Island off Lahad Datu on Christmas eve appears to be related to oceanographic conditions in the area.

According to the Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) Borneo Marine Research Institute director Professor Dr Saleem Mustafa, the mass aggregation of sardines was to linked to oceanographic conditions.

Sardine is a shoal and pelagic fish which is sensitive to several oceanographic factors, especially temperature, currents and wind-induced turbulence in the sea surface, Dr Saleem said when asked to comment on the phenomenon in Lahad Datu.

Asked why there was such a large number in Tambisan two days ago, Dr Saleem replied, “Sardine is a shoal fish which tends to remain in large and dense aggregations. The shoal can be several hundred meters wide and several meters deep. Obviously, in Lahad Datu, they moved in thousands. We should not expect sardine to move to coastal waters individually.

“It is not unusual for sardines to be so close to shore. They do migrate in shore waters due to environmental and biological factors. Their migration route is influenced by many factors. They avoid regions where temperature is high, and where swells take place and water is turbid. They prefer calm currents.

“It is a temporary event and I do not expect to happen very often,” he said.

Asked why the fish were jumping out of the sea onto shore, Dr Saleem said that it could be that the sardine shoal or school of sardine was in very dense aggregation and the continental shelf in Lahad Datu where it occurred was narrow.

When shoals of fish tend to stay together and the density is exceptionally high in a narrow shelf area, jumping out of water is expected, he said.

Asked whether the fish is safe for consumption, he replied, “This is a persistent question being asked since this morning. I would like to give some reasons to explain it, among which are that the the fish looked healthy (no reports of unhealthy signs on their body), they were alive and vigorously jumping out of water and that there are no reports of any health problems or poisoning symptoms from those who consumed the fish.

Fish moved to coastal waters due to oceanographic conditions, he said, adding, “Considering all these factors I believe the fish is safe to eat. However, detailed observations on the fish need to be carried out for a more convincing explanation”.

Meanwhile, the tsunami early warning system did not detect any movement of the seabed of Kampung Tambisan Tungku, Lahad Datu, where thousands of fish beached Tuesday.

Sabah Meteorological Department director Abdul Malik Tussin said despite the phenomena, the early warning system in the area did not detect any earthquake or tsunami threat.

“The incident is rare. It happened over a short time and not due to any movement of the seabed that cause earthquake or tsunami,” he said when contacted by Bernama, here Wednesday.

Abdul Malik said the Meteorological Department was monitoring the movement of the seabed which was in a state of calm.

Weather conditions in Sabah was forecasted to be good except in some areas, particularly Beaufort, which was flooded due to overflowing of Sungai Padas in Tenom.

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