Marine mammals

Importance of Yarari Sanctuary for Minke Whale

A new collaborative study provides new insight into how two species of minke whales utilize the Caribbean and neighboring Atlantic waters throughout their life cycle. The findings add further conservation value and significance to the relatively new Yarari marine sanctuary of the Netherlands. By combining scientific, citizen science and public information, this study provides key information which will help guide conservation efforts moving forward.

Minke whales are the smallest of the “great whales” and can be found in waters world-wide. There are actually two different species of Minke whale, the common minke whale, or northern minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) and the Antarctic minke whale, or southern minke whale (Balaenoptera bonaerensis).

Yarari Sanctuary

Minke whales are known to migrate over long distances, with both species using the warm waters of the Caribbean to breed and calf during the winter months. Within the Caribbean, there are a number of marine protected areas, such as the Yarari Marine Mammal and Shark Sanctuary, which includes the territorial waters around Bonaire, Saba, and St. Eustatius. In addition to providing vital protection of the marine ecosystem, the Yarari Sanctuary is used to help focus research for greater insight into the life cycles and migration patterns of both resident and migratory species. Understanding how these species travel during the year and use Caribbean waters is critical in designing effective conservation plans in the future.

New Study

A recent study brought together a wide array of researchers and conservation groups including the Institute of Environmental Sciences from Leiden University and the Aruba Marine Mammal Foundation. This study reviewed literature, citizen science and scientific records to compile spatial and temporal data for both species of minke whales. The goal of the study was to learn more about how these species use the Wider Caribbean Area throughout their life cycles.

In total, 130 records were collected, most of which were from scientific studies (100) and the rest from citizen science (30). Minke whales are notoriously inquisitive, frequently approaching boats, which makes them the perfect species to be spotted by citizen scientists. Improvements in civilian camera equipment, and increased initiatives to record and share biodiversity observations on social networks and public databases have led to a recent surge in citizen science reports for all species.

Findings

Photo credit: Hans Verdaat

This study was able to integrate scattered species records to provide new insights that point to the importance of the Yarari Sanctuary which lies in the center of an Eastern Caribbean wintering area for the common minke whale and thus add conservation value and significance to this relatively new marine sanctuary of the Netherlands. These new insights are in large part thanks to two previous studies conducted by Wageningen University & Research together with the Saba Bank Managing Unit and were generously funded by the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality (LNV). These latter results were aligned with similar studies and were found to be consistent with large-scale seasonal migration routes of the Minke whales.

Interestingly, this study highlighted that although it was previously believed that only the northern minke whale used the Gulf of Mexico, there were confirmed stranding incidents involving both species. Furthermore, the fact that there were strandings of minke whales throughout the year suggested that some whales stay year-round within the Gulf.

Report your Sightings

Every sighting can provide useful data that can contribute to the understanding needed to protect these species. Help further conservation efforts by reporting your (minke) whale (or other species) 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, citizens and tourists alike.

For more information you can find the full report on the Dutch Caribbean Biodiversity Database by clicking the button below.

https://www.dcbd.nl/document/spatial-temporal-distribution-minke-whales-...

 

Article published in BioNews 46

 

Date
2021
Data type
Media
Theme
Education and outreach
Research and monitoring
Geographic location
Aruba
Bonaire
Curacao
Saba
Saba bank
St. Eustatius
St. Maarten
Author

Recommendations for avoiding collisions with humpback whales in the Dutch Caribbean

A new study from the Aeres University of Applied Sciences combined expert knowledge and an analysis of historical data concerning whale ship strikes.  The goal was to provide a list of recommendations to avoid future collisions. As boat traffic within the Caribbean continues to increase, finding ways to minimize the fatal impacts will be vital for protecting these species in the future.

Humpback whale. Photo credit: Todd Cravens

Whales play a critical role in the ocean ecosystems.  They occupy all of the world’s oceans (from coastal areas to deep sea) and serve as an indicator of overall ocean health.  Whales help preserve healthy fish stock by eliminating weaker fish, serve as a food source for sharks and other whales and lastly provide a wealth of nutrition to the seafloor when their carcasses sink and decompose.  In this way, whales act as a pump, recirculating nutrients throughout the ocean.

Ship Strikes

There are more than twenty different species of marine mammals found throughout the Dutch Caribbean. Overall, impact between whales and ships within these waters is probably low, however poor tracking and limited information has made it difficult to fully grasp this issue.  There is one recorded incident, from 2000, where Bonaire’s harbor master reported a Bryde’s whale pinned to the front of an incoming ship’s bow.  The ship’s crew was unaware until notified by the harbor master.

Boat traffic in the Caribbean is significant.  Heavy commercial traffic along with one third of all of the world’s cruise boat tourists puts migrating humpback whales at risk for collision.  Four students, Laetitia Geraets, Nehis Osagie, Tamara Raven and Angélica Verschragen, from the Aeres University of Applied Sciences in Almere, Netherlands are looking to shed light on the problem of ship strikes with humpback whales. The goal of the study was to examine past collision reports to offer insight into ways to reduce or prevent ship strikes in the future.

Results

Humpback whale. Photo credit: Mike Doherty

They discovered that an average of thirty whales are killed each year due to ship collisions, which has nearly doubled when compared to five years ago.  This is predominately due to a significant overlap of whale migration routes and shipping lanes, high speeds of vessels and the fact that lactating whales spend more time at shallow depths making them vulnerable to collision (particularly within calving grounds such as near the windward Dutch Caribbean islands).

They suggest developing and implementing a reporting system with the coast guard, while simultaneously establishing speed limits within Dutch waters and temporary precautionary zones around areas with recent whale sightings. Ultimately, they propose the use of an app which will allow individuals to report sightings and also provide timely recommendations to captains.  To ensure participation, they suggest a label be given to vessels which are compliant with all the rules and who actively use the app.  This label would help promote mindfulness along important whale migration areas.

Through an increased awareness and the creation of safe spaces such as the Yarari Marine Mammal and Shark Sanctuary, we can all work together to protect these vital species in the future. You can help contribute to our overall understanding of these species by reporting any sightings on Observation.org and by supporting and encouraging whale safe practices.

 

https://www.dcbd.nl/document/humpback-whales-and-shipping-collisions-dut...

 

 

Article published in BioNews 44

Date
2021
Data type
Media
Theme
Education and outreach
Research and monitoring
Geographic location
Aruba
Bonaire
Curacao
Saba
Saba bank
St. Eustatius
St. Maarten
Author

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.

More information

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.

Date
2021
Data type
Media
Theme
Education and outreach
Research and monitoring
Geographic location
Saba
Saba bank
St. Eustatius
St. Maarten
Author

CARI'MAM Scientific Survey 2021 Final Report

The CARI’MAM project

More than 30 species of marine mammals inhabit the waters of the Caribbean,which makes it a world hotspot. These highly mobile species are known to move between different Caribbean territories and beyond. Between 2018 and 2021, the CARI’MAM (CaribbeanMarine MammalPreservation Network) project was carried out to develop a network and foster collaboration between Caribbean actors involved in the conservation of marine mammals in the region. Co-funded by the INTERREG Caribbean Program from the European Union, it aimed at providing territories withvarious socio-economic, legislative and regulatory situations the opportunity to join forces to:

-Improve knowledge on the presence and movements of cetaceans in the Wider Caribbean Region (WCR);

-Develop MPAs’ efficiency in managing marine mammals and their habitats within their borders.

 

This project wascoordinated by four organisations:

-SPAW-RAC, the Regional Activity Center for the Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife from the Cartagena Convention;

-The St Martin Natural Reserve;

-The Grand Connetable Island Natural Reserve in French Guyana;

-The Agoa Sanctuary, which is the CARI’MAM project leader.

 

The CARI’MAM network grew all along the project, gathering more than 50 organisations from about 30 territories from Bermuda to French Guyana, Barbados to Jamaica and Central America.

 

The main objectives of the CARI’MAM project were to:

-Create a network of MPAs dedicated to marine mammals in the WCR and beyond;

-Building capacities and knowledge among MPA managers;

-Develop common management and evaluation tools;

-Supporting the development of a sustainable whale watching industry in the WCR and beyond;

 

Specifically, nine Work Packages were identifiedto reach those objectives. Work Package 2 (WP2), intitled “Data acquisition” aimed at acquiring knowledge on marine mammals and testing field methodology through several scientific campaigns at sea.

Therefore, two scientific campaigns were organized in 2021, covering the waters of Anguilla, St Martin, St Barthelemy, Saba, Statia, Guadeloupe and Martinique. The objective of this survey was to evaluate cetacean abundance and distribution during the dry season and the wet season respectively. This report presents the methodology and final results of this survey.

Date
2021
Data type
Research report
Theme
Research and monitoring
Geographic location
Saba
Saba bank
St. Eustatius
St. Maarten

Special Edition: Transboundary Species

There has been a recent increase in public awareness of environmental issues as the effects of climate change have become ever more noticeable in our daily lives. As we enter a new decade, it becomes useful to review what conservation efforts have worked so far, and take inventory of what efforts will be required for the future. Starting with the constitutional referendum creating the Caribbean Netherlands (Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba (BES), the response to conservation challenges of all six Dutch Caribbean islands have varied. Since 2010, the BES islands have seen an overall increase in funding support and conservation actions, and therefore presumably also saw greater improvements when compared to Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten, though clearly not enough (Sanders et al, 2019).

The goal of this Transboundary Species special edition of BioNews is to provide an update on the latest published research results and highlight the need for transboundary protection. These species know no boundaries, and thus move between the Dutch Caribbean islands and beyond. Their protection will require broadscale conservation efforts which cover the entire Caribbean, including the six Dutch Caribbean islands. Collaboration between all six islands is of the utmost importance. This is one of the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance’s (DCNA) main goals: working together and sharing skills, knowledge and resources to maintain a solid network and support nature conservation in the entire Dutch Caribbean.

 

Date
2019
Data type
Media
Theme
Education and outreach
Research and monitoring
Geographic location
Aruba
Bonaire
Curacao
Saba
Saba bank
St. Eustatius
St. Maarten
Author

Humpback and minke whale acoustic presence with reference to fish sounds and ambient noise levels at Saba Bank, Caribbean Windward Dutch Islands

The Antillean Island chain is a known breeding and calving ground for North Atlantic humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae). However, while most research efforts for this species have focused on the largest aggregation of whales, located on Silver Bank, off the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, there are still significant knowledge gaps with respect to humpback whale movements along the Antillean Island chain. Even less is known about the spatio-temporal distribution of other marine mammal and fish species in the region. This report summarizes analysis results of acoustic data (10-8000 Hz effective analysis bandwidth recorded at a 25% duty cycle), recorded on the north east of Saba Bank from October 2011 to April 2012. The results show the consistent presence of humpback whales in the vicinity of Saba Bank during their winter breeding season, occasional presence of minke whales and the presence of sound producing fish assemblages. Humpback whale song occurred from the end of December to the end of the recording period in April. From February to April humpback whale song was recorded on more than 89 % of all recording days, though it occurred most frequently in March. All recording days in March showed song presence, with an average of 8.5 ± 2.8 (mean ± SE) hours of recorded song per day. In contrast, for minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) 48 pulse trains (n = 32) were detected less frequently between February to April 2012. A variety of unidentified fish sounds were present throughout the recordings. Although the occurrence of these sounds was not quantified, notable fish choruses (e.g. grouper spp. Epinephelinae) consisting of one to two distinct pulsed calls in the frequency range of 100 - 600 Hz were documented from October to December 2011 in particular. The results of this pilot project highlight the feasibility of using passive acoustic monitoring (PAM) to explore year-round marine mammal and fish presence and distribution in otherwise understudied and remote field sites.

Date
2020
Data type
Research report
Theme
Research and monitoring
Report number
C067/16
Geographic location
Saba bank

SPAW-RAC MARINE MAMMAL MAPPING APPLICATION

Project "Broad-scale marine spatial planning of mammal corridors & protected areas in Wider Caribbean & Southeast & Northeast Pacific" (2010-2012).

The mapping tool developed by the SPAW-RAC allows the display of different kinds of information about marine mammals in the Wider Caribbean Region (distribution, species richness, threats, protection). The datalayers that can be used by the tool have been built in the framework of the LifeWeb project (see more details below).

To access the mapping tool, please click on the link below:

Access the application

Then, you can choose one of the proposed base maps as well as one or several datalayers. As the different layers are superimposed, it is not possible to display more than five together.

You also have the possibility to add a title and eventually to print your map (the title and legends will appear on the final output).

The LifeWeb project

The two and a half year UNEP-Spain Lifeweb project aims to assist countries develop and apply cross-sectoral ecosystem approaches to management of human threats to marine mammals. The inter-regional initiative was launched by UNEP in June 2010 through financial support from the Government of Spain under the UNEP-Spain Partnership for the LifeWeb Initiative. Initial activities and outputs include mapping of critical marine mammal habitats and regional-scale migration routes together with socio- economic information on human activities to underpin broad-scale spatial planning and management of human impacts on large marine mammals in Caribbean and Southeast and Northeast Pacific waters. The project further aims to assist planners and managers initiate transboundary management and governance of marine resources via capacity building and technical guidance on marine spatial planning.

  • The SPAW-RAC mapping application presents the outputs of component 1 (mapping) for the Wider Caribbean Region which are organized into four categories :
  •  distribution maps of the 25 marine mammals species encompassed in the project ;
  •  maps displaying the species richness in the WCR ;
  •  maps representing the major threats and impacts of human activities ;
  •  maps that report the main protection measures that have been put in place for marine mammals throughout the region.
  • All the maps were prepared and produced by GRID-Arendal (Jean-Nicolas POUSSART), with the assistance, for the distribution and species richness maps, of the Whales and Dolphins Conservation Society (Kristin KASCHNER) and of a number of experts led by Dr Randall REEVES.
Date
2018
Data type
Portal

A stranding guide to the marine mammals of the wider Caribbean region

Accurate species identification of marine mammals is key to improving our knowledge about them, including their distribution, natural history and the causes of their deaths. Marine mammals face many human-related challenges. Entanglement in active and discarded fishing gear poses a serious threat. Where their ranges overlap with human activities, marine mammals may also suffer from disturbance, vessel collision and exposure to contaminants, as well as loss of feeding, mating and nursery habitats. An impediment to marine mammal conservation is the scarcity of knowledge about their normal habitat, diet, behavior and demographics, and how human impacts affect these critical factors. Our principal hope is that this field guide will assist in correctly identifying stranded marine mammals, and that associated research will lead to an increased understanding of their lives, both for the sake of ‘filling the gaps’ of our knowledge and to design better conservation measures to protect them in the Wider Caribbean Region (WCR).

A stranded marine mammal is defined as a marine mammal found dead on the beach or one that is alive but in a helpless position; for example, one that comes ashore ill, weak or simply lost. Every year thousands of whales and dolphins are found stranded alive or dead on beaches all over the world. They may be alone or in groups. Some animals are old or unwell, but many of them are young and otherwise in good health. This is a natural phenomenon that has been recorded for centuries. The mechanisms behind such events, however, remain one of the great mysteries of the animal kingdom.

Single strandings are generally considered the result of normal mortality, disease processes or associated with human actions. Regardless of whether they strand alive or dead, single-stranded animals soon die. The expression mass-stranded generally refers to a simultaneous stranding of two or more cetaceans of the same species, other than a female and her calf. Mass strandings are harder to understand. They occur when a group of toothed whales come ashore alive. Such animals rapidly encounter serious problems with sunburn, dehydration and other aspects of exposure. Some mass strandings (i.e., beaked whales) exhibit a broader distribution in time and space than typical mass strandings, which are generally confined to a specific area.

This guide is produced by ECCN:

The Eastern Caribbean Cetacean Network (ECCN) is a regional volunteer organization that tracks sightings and strandings of whales and dolphins in the Eastern Caribbean (the Lesser Antilles). Through research and education, ECCN’s mission is to gain community support for the protection of resident and migratory whales and dolphins and their critical marine habitats. ECCN has been a primary contributor in the inception and development of the Action Plan for the Conservation of Marine Mammals (MMAP) of the Wider Caribbean Region (WCR) under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Protocol for Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW). Since 2005, ECCN has provided Marine Mammal Stranding Response Training Workshops in the Eastern Caribbean as well as the French and Dutch Antilles.

Date
2018
Data type
Monitoring protocol
Theme
Research and monitoring
Geographic location
Aruba
Bonaire
Curacao
Saba
Saba bank
St. Eustatius
St. Maarten

Marine mammal (catacean) stranding form

Form to report on marine mammals (cetaceans) landings.

The form is based on material from Eastern Caribbean Cetacean Network (ECCN). See here for the whale stranding fieldguide.

Date
2017
Data type
Monitoring protocol
Theme
Research and monitoring
Geographic location
Bonaire

Bonaire Coastal Dolphin Project

The Bonaire Coastal Dolphin Project was launched in February 2008 in collaboration with STINAPA and CIEE Research Station Bonaire.

 

This is the first photo-identification catalogue for botllenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in Bonaire. 

Date
2008
Data type
Other resources
Theme
Research and monitoring
Geographic location
Bonaire
Author