Results of Nature Foundation Marine Mammal Monitoring Project Jan-May 2011
The St. Maarten Nature Foundation conducted a Marine Mammal Census project which lasted from February until May 2011. The goal of this project was to conduct a wide scale census of all Marine Mammals found in St. Maarten territorial waters, including within the Man of War Shoal Marine Park. Many on St. Maarten might not be aware that there is a relatively significant Marine Mammal population in the waters surrounding St. Maarten, including numerous species of whales and dolphins. Several questions were answered as a result
of this study including most numerous species, migration routes and dates and the feasibility of regulated wild whale and dolphin watching trips. The primary monitoring method employed was the reliance on sighting forms developed by the Nature Foundation and distributed to Dive Centres, Yacht Charter Companies and Marinas. The second monitoring method involved the Method Developed by the Reserve Naturelle de St. Martin involving various transacts on pre-determined routes. A sailing Catamaran was used to cover the transacts with four lookouts placed to monitor for Marine Mammal Activity. During the Acoustic points hydrophones were lowered in the water and vocalizations were recorded and the relevant data noted. A recording of the whale songs can be heard via www.youtube.com/watch?v=JfpsnuUNXDW.
The most abundant Maine Mammal species was the Humpback Whale, with the total number recorded at 33 individuals, including calves. The second most abundant species was the Bottle Nose Dolphin, with total of 19 individuals observed with the largest pod being seven (7) individuals. The third most abundant species was the Long Snouted Spinner Dolphin. There were nine individuals recorded within the territorial waters of St. Maarten
If current trends on the abundance and distribution of both the Humpback and Dolphin species are consistent with this initial data, than structured dolphin and whale watching tours are a real possibility on St. Maarten, especially between the months of January and March, which coincide with the peak of the tourist high season. The economic benefits of whale watching tours can be a significant boost to the economy of St. Maarten.
The Man of War Shoal Marine Park had a considerable number of recordings of both whale and dolphin species which adds considerably to the biological value of the Park