Whale worshiping “Tục thờ cá Ông” has been known as a particular folk belief of communities along the Vietnamese coast. Even though this belief has been around for a long time, its origin remains unknown. The fishing community believe that whale will save them from the perils of the sea and help them get back to the shore safely. Because of this belief, when a dead whale washes up on shore, the fishermen will be carefully buried it. After being buried for at least 03 years, the bones will be unearthed and preserved in the whale temple built at the heart of fishing villages along the Vietnamese coast. For a long time, whale temples have amassed a sizeable number of specimens that not only be a traditional culture of Vietnamese fishing communities, but also provide us a valuable source of information concerning marine mammals in Vietnam.
The lack of information regarding the distribution and abundance of marine mammals (whales, dolphins, porpoises, and dugongs) along the Vietnamese coast remains the challenge for conserving marine mammal species inhabiting Vietnamese waters from emerging anthropological threats. Our knowledge and information on cetaceans inhabiting Vietnamese waters is outdated, scattered, and inaccessible to policymakers, conservation practitioners, and the public. This absence of evidence-based knowledge also means that the conservation of cetaceans in Vietnam is largely driven by anecdotal information rather than science.
Our work was supported by the Biodiversity Information Fund for Asia (BIFA) from the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF). We planned to visit the remaining coast in the central of Vietnam to build comprehensive baseline data on marine mammals in Vietnamese waters.
Whale temple culture and marine mammal worship is a unique example of a cultural practice from interactions between marine mammals and humans in Vietnam for a long time. Sadly, this culture is fading away for many different reasons such as temples are moved or removed for infrastructure development projects, or the young people in the fishing villages move to bigger cities. We hope that conservation efforts can take advantage of this already existing belief among artisanal fishers to promote the protection of marine ecosystems and aid in the establishment of sustainable development practices.