Research Expedition for Lesser Antillean Sperm Whales
The Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance (DCNA) and World Wide Fund for Nature Netherlands (WWF-NL) are proud to support Caribbean Cetacean Society’s (CCS) new “Ti Whale An Nou” Project. This project will provide key insight which will be used to estimate population sizes, distribution, movements and social structure of sperm whales in the Lesser Antilles between the islands of Grenada and Anguilla, including the Yarari Marine Mammal and Shark Sanctuary, around Saba, Saba Bank, St. Maarten and St. Eustatius. These results will be valuable for improving marine mammal protection in the Wider Caribbean region.
Caribbean Hot Spot
Humpback whale calf
Photo credit: Tomas Kotouc
There are over 33 species of cetaceans (marine mammals) which can be found within the Caribbean region, representing over a third of the total global population. Marine mammals can be a valuable indicator for the overall health of oceans and help maintain balance within the very complex marine environment. As predators, they serve to thin out weak or injured fish, and as prey they provide an important food source for other species. They serve as a carbon pump, relocating nutrients ingested near the surface as nitrogen-rich fecal matter which settles along the ocean floor. This fecal matter is an important food source for phytoplankton, small animals that consume CO2 and convert into oxygen. In this way, marine mammals contribute in our fight against effects of climate change. Furthermore, when marine mammals die, their bodies sink bringing important nutrients to even the deepest parts of the ocean. Lastly, these species can have great economic impact, serving to improve local fish stock while also being a significant tourist driver.
Locally Driven Study
Unfortunately, still much is unknown about the marine mammals of the Caribbean. Luckily, studies such as the newly announced Caribbean Cetaceans Society’s (CCS) “Ti Whale An Nou” help fill in these knowledge gaps. This study will work to increase international collaboration and involvement of local Caribbean organizations (such as the DCNA and Saba Conservation Foundation), improving understanding and building capacity for years to come. This project builds off previous studies conducted in 2016 by the Dominica Sperm Whale Project and 2019/2020 by Dalhousie University. This research mission has received great support by not only DCNA and WWF-NL, but from Corail Caraibes, Orange, the EDF Group Foundation, Animal Wellfare Institute, and Parc Naturel Régional de la Martinique as well.
Sperm whale. Photo credit: Alexis Rosenfeld
Ti Whale An Nou
“Ti Whale An Nou” is Haitian creole for “Our Little Whales” and serves as a reminder of how interlinked humans are to the ocean. The study will take place over six expeditions, focused on three main zones reaching between Anguilla and Granada. The goal is to improve understanding of the diversity, distribution and relative densities of marine mammal species, specifically sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) in the Lesser Antilles. This project will also provide new acoustic data to help improve the ability to identify species through an artificial intelligence system. Lastly, this project will provide new insight into the role of environmental variables in the diversity and distribution of marine mammals throughout the West Indies.
Importance of cooperation
As experts continue to learn more about these complex and dynamic areas, more impactful conservation strategies can be implemented. Transboundary species, especially those with migration routes as long reaching as whales, dolphins and sharks, require a network which crosses international borders. One such example is the Yarari Marine Mammal and Sanctuary, which helps to create safe passage for marine mammals and sharks throughout the waters of the Caribbean Netherlands. Through collaborative efforts, driven at the local level, the Caribbean can serve as a leader in international cooperation for marine conservation.
Report your Sightings
Have you (ever) observed whales in the Caribbean? Every sighting can provide useful data for researchers and provides critical information needed to protect these species. Help us by reporting your (old) nature sightings and photos on the website Observation.org or download the free app (iPhone (iObs) & Android (ObsMapp)). These tools are available in over 40 languages and can be used by biologists and citizens and tourists alike.
To find out more, visit the project’s website (https://www.ccs-ngo.com/ti-whale-an-nou-2021). Outcomes of this expedition will be made available in Obsenmer, FlukeBook, Dutch Caribbean Biodiversity Database, Observation.org and Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF).
Article published in BioNews 44.