Marine mammals

Marine mammals in the Wider Caribbean – Current research and priorities for future studies

Summary:

Information on the distribution, abundance and ecology of marine mammal in the Wider Caribbean Region is scarce. This report aims at collating the on-going research in the Wider Caribbean Region, at identifying the most critical knowledge gaps that need to be addressed to inform and facilitate conservation actions and assess the most suitable research techniques to fill these knowledge gaps.

Numerous research activities aiming at marine mammals have been commenced by individual organisations as well as regional or even international collaborations throughout the Wider Caribbean over the past years. These efforts, ranging from visual to acoustic surveys, satellite telemetry, stranding response, and many more, provide valuable insight into important aspects of the ecology of marine mammals and show that the motivation and need to conduct research on marine mammals in the Caribbean waters is high. Due to lack of funds and capacity most current and past cetacean research in the region can be characterised as small-scale, low in sophistication, opportunistic, temporary and local which is a great limitation to the understanding required for proper conservation of this increasingly important resource in this tourism-oriented region. Consequently, if continued with the current level of capacity and expertise, the results will continue to remain limited. There is an urgent need to combine forces, work on a larger geographic scale and use new and innovative techniques if we want to move beyond the current patchwork in activities and understanding. Ideally, all on-going and suggested future research efforts should become integral parts of a joint international research strategy for the wider Caribbean.

The choice of research methods to be used, however, depends in large part on the questions to be answered. Knowledge on temporal and spatial scale of marine mammal occurrence in the Caribbean waters is essential for any effective management and conservation and should have first priority, followed by studies on the effect of anthropogenic activities on marine mammals. In the absence of adequate data on marine mammals in this region, but with cautious extrapolation of knowledge and experience gained in other parts of the world we suggest to concentrate research efforts on visual and acoustic surveys and monitoring, stranding networks and necropsy of stranded animals, along with photo ID and tissue sampling for genetic analysis. All these methods differ in terms of the aims for which they will be suitable. Therefore, the aims must be clear before choosing the method. Research on the diverse groups of marine mammals has to modular and collaborative such that it can be synergistic, provided that there is sufficient collaboration and communication between all parties involved.

Public outreach by involvement of local institutions, marine parks, tour operators as well as communication of any research plan and results to local, regional and international regulators, policy makers and public representatives, plays an equally important role in achieving management and conservation goals.

This report is part of the Wageningen University BO research program (BO-11-011.05-005) and has been financed by the Ministry of Economic Affairs (EZ) under project number 4308701020. 

Date
2014
Data type
Research report
Theme
Research and monitoring
Report number
C007/14
Geographic location
Aruba
Bonaire
Curacao
Saba
Saba bank
St. Eustatius
St. Maarten

BioNews 3 - March 2013

From a global perspective, March has been busy when it comes to regulatory affairs with the CITES meeting in Bangkok, Thailand, in which worldwide protection for several shark species and manta rays was established and, closer to home, with the EEZ Meeting on Curaçao which will be showcased as the ‘Meeting of the Month’. This report is complemented by a short article on the importance of marine mammal conservation in the Dutch Caribbean.

Amongst others, you will find in this third issue:

 

Date
2013
Data type
Media
Theme
Education and outreach
Research and monitoring
Geographic location
Aruba
Bonaire
Curacao
Saba
St. Eustatius
St. Maarten
Author

Saba Bank research expedition 2011 – Progress Report

Abstract:

The Saba Bank is a large submerged carbonate platform of approximately 2,200 km2 in the Caribbean Sea which lies partially within the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Netherlands and partially within the territorial waters of Saba and St. Eustatius. It was declared a protected area by the Dutch Government on 15 December 2010 and has been registered as such in the Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW) protocol of the Cartagena Convention for the Protection and Development of the Marine Environment of the Wider Caribbean. Applications for a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area (PSSA) at IMO and Ecological or Biological Significant Area (EBSA) at CBD are pending.

As part of the Saba Bank research program 2011-2016, commissioned by the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs (EZ), an expedition to the Saba Bank was conducted from 22 to 29 October 2011. The Saba Bank research program aims to obtain information on the biodiversity, key ecological processes and carrying capacity for commercial fisheries to facilitate sustainable management of the area. The primary objectives of the 2011 research expedition were to collect data on benthic and reef fish communities; sponges and nutritional sources of the sponge community; seabirds and marine mammals; water quality, water velocity and other physical parameters. A multidisciplinary team conducted video and visual surveys on benthos, fish and sponges during 10 SCUBA dives at 20-30m depth, while sea birds and marine mammals were surveyed by means of on-board visual surveys and acoustic data loggers. Water velocity and water quality were also measured on-board using an Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler (ADCP) and Conductivity, Temperature and Depth (CTD) device.

During the expedition 8 sponge species were collected and 37 scleractinian coral species and 85 fish species were identified.Fish biomass varied per site between 1.3 kg to 4.4 kg.
Part of the measurements on water velocity, water quality and benthic cover are still in the process of being analysed. Data collected will also be used as baseline for future monitoring and analyses of biodiversity and key ecological processes within the framework of the 2011-2016 research program. 

Date
2013
Data type
Research report
Theme
Research and monitoring
Report number
C018/13
Geographic location
Saba bank

The cetaceans of Aruba, southern Caribbean

Abstract:

Aruba is one of the most densely populated islands in the Caribbean. However, very little is known about its cetaceans. In 2010 and 2011, a total of 19721 km (1686 h) boat-based surveys over nearshore transects resulted in 117 positively-identified sightings comprising eight species. New records are also added for one of three previously-documented species. Five additional species were documented from strandings or reports by others. This brings the total number of cetacean species identified in Aruban waters to 16, of which nine are authenticated here for the first time. Atlantic spotted dolphin (Stenella frontalis (N 1⁄4 59) and bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) (N 1⁄4 33) were the most frequently observed species, with sightings of both year-round, followed by spinner dolphin (S. longirostris) and false killer whale (Pseudorca crassidens). Additional species recorded are pantropical spotted dolphin (S. attenuata), striped dolphin (S. coeruleoalba), common dolphin (Delphinus capensis), rough-toothed dolphin (Steno bredanensis), short-finned pilot whale (Globicephala macrorhynchus), killer whale (Orcinus orca), Risso’s dolphin (Grampus griseus), humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae), Bryde’s/Eden’s whale (Balaenoptera brydei/edeni), sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) and an unidentified beaked whale (Mesoplodon sp.). All cetaceans were sighted within 22 km of the coast in relatively shallow waters. Sighting rate was low (0.69 cetacean sightings per 100 km). Sightings of calves and neonates indicate that Aruba may be a nursing or breeding area for some species. The presence of several species of cetaceans in Aruba’s coastal waters year-round indicates that status and threat assessments are needed to protect them. 

Date
2013
Data type
Scientific article
Theme
Research and monitoring
Geographic location
Aruba

Attitudes towards marine mammal conservation issues before the introduction of whale-watching: a case study in Aruba (southern Caribbean)

1. Effective conservation management requires a solid understanding of social and economic factors, in addition to biological factors affecting what is to be conserved. Aruba is one of the most densely populated islands in the Caribbean and its already high number of tourists is still increasing. No commercial whale-watching operations are offered yet on the island. This provides a rare opportunity to document knowledge of and values concerning marine mammals before the introduction of whale-watching operations.

2. In 2010, a survey was conducted to investigate the awareness and attitudes of resident Arubans (n = 204) and tourists (n = 198) towards marine mammals and their conservation on Aruba. Knowledge of the local marine mammal community was low for both groups. Most participants would support more stringent legislation for protecting marine mammals in Aruba. Overall concern regarding threats to marine mammals was high and oil spills, chemical pollution, litter and sewage were identified as the most serious threats. A large proportion of residents (84.2%) and tourists (83.6%) were interested in, and willing to pay for, viewing marine mammals. Both groups preferred to see marine mammals in the wild rather than in captivity.

3. This is the first study that investigates the attitudes of people towards marine mammals and their conservation in a country that does not have marine mammal related tourism yet. This study suggests that strong support for marine mammal conservation issues does not critically depend on detailed knowledge of the local marine mammal community, or on the availability of whale-watching operations.

Date
2013
Data type
Scientific article
Theme
Legislation
Research and monitoring
Geographic location
Aruba

The marine mammals of the Dutch Caribbean: a comparison between EEZ sectors, contrasts and concerns

We here provide a synoptic overview and preliminary update of the marine mammals of the Dutch Caribbean EEZ based on 279 cetacean sighting and stranding records. The Dutch Caribbean EEZ is composed of two distinct sectors. One is centered around the leeward Dutch islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao (71,000 km2) while the other is centered around the windward Dutch islands of Saba, St. Eustatius and St. Maarten (22,000 km2). The previous principal review (of cetaceans) dating from 1998, was based on only 70 records from the leeward sector and confirmed the occurrence of some 13 species for Dutch Kingdom waters. Now, with a 4-fold increase in number of records, 19 species can be documented for the Dutch Kingdom waters (18 species in the leeward sector and 8 species in the windward sector).

The windward sector stands out for its large number of humpback whale sightings (45% of records) and may form part of its former (or current) calving grounds. This species remains relatively rare in the leeward sector (5% of records) and continues to be targeted by aboriginal fishing in its destination wintering grounds to the east, where the relict breeding population is having difficulty to rebound. The species is of growing interest to tourism in the region and urgently needs full protection from all fishing in the southern Caribbean. The leeward EEZ sector further lies down-stream from seasonal upwelling areas off Venezuela that support the largest fishery of the Caribbean. This sector stands out for its high occurrence of beaked whales and the Bryde’s whale. Marine mammal strandings are much more common here (26% of records) than in the northern sector (3% of records). Human induced mortalities (first suggested in 1974) and disturbance due to coastal tourism and recreation are key and growing concerns in the southern Dutch EEZ sector.

The marine mammal fauna of the Dutch Caribbean is evidently rich and varied but continues to suffer man-induced mortality and disturbance. Several nations, including the USA, the Dominican Republic and France, have recently established marine mammal sanctuaries in Caribbean waters. The Netherlands should consider doing the same.

Date
2011
Data type
Scientific article
Theme
Research and monitoring
Document
Geographic location
Bonaire
Saba
St. Eustatius

Report of the Scientific Committee (Annual meeting 2011, 30 May-11 June 2011, Trømso, Norway)

...National Progress Reports presented at the 2002-10 meetings are accessible on the IWC website. Reports from previous years will also become available in this format in the future. The Committee reaffirms its view of the importance of national Progress Reports to its work in a number of sub-committee’s and recommends that the Commission continues to urge member nations to submit them following the approved guidelines (IWC, 1993b). Non-member nations wishing to submit Progress Reports are welcome to do so. It also draws attention to the need for those countries that do provide them to ensure that they are completed fully (e.g. see Items 7.3, 7.7, 14.5). Donovan reported that a prototype online submission system and database has been developed (IWC, 2011e, p.1) that will be trialled by a number of participants during and immediately after the meeting. It is expected that the online system can be used for next year’s national Progress Reports. The Committee welcomes this development. A summary of the information included in the Progress Reports presented this year is given as Annex O....

Date
2012
Data type
Scientific article
Author

Additional Records and a Review of the Cetacean Fauna of the Leeward Dutch Antilles

Forty-one additional cetacean records are reported for the Leeward Dutch Antilles, expanding the list of documented records to 70 (53 sightings and 17 strandings). First records are given for the melonhead whale Peponocephala electra (Gray), such that now 13 species are confirmed for these islands. The most sighted whales are Bryde’s whale and shortfin pilot whale, whereas the most sighted dolphins are spinner and bottlenose dolphins. Most cetacean movement is upstream and towards the east/southeast. Reported strandings have been on the rise, of which 47% involved beaked whales (goosebeak whale and Antillean beaked whale)

Date
1998
Data type
Scientific article
Theme
Research and monitoring
Geographic location
Aruba
Bonaire
Curacao

First record of Fraser’s dolphin Lagenodelphis hosei for the Dutch Caribbean

A dead dolphin found on Bonaire in August 2011 is identified as adult Fraser’s dolphin Lagenodelphis hosei, a new species for the Dutch Caribbean. A first closer examination showed a collapsed lung, stomach parasite infection and abundant mouth ulceration as indications of its health status. The animal was relatively fresh and did not die very long before it was found. Like more often with stranded deep diving cetacean species within the area, remnants of crustacean were found in its beak indicating recent foraging. 

Date
2012
Data type
Scientific article
Theme
Research and monitoring
Geographic location
Bonaire

A Proposal Towards a Dutch Caribbean Marine Mammal Sanctuary

Abstract:

Based on the goals set forth in the Dutch Biodiversity Policy Programme, The Netherlands has a traditionally strong commitment to protect biodiversity and marine mammals both internationally and in its own national and Kingdom waters. Last year the responsible ministry, namely the Netherlands Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation (EL&I), developed a management plan for the biological resources of the recently declared Dutch Caribbean Exclusive Economic Zone. The Dutch Caribbean EEZ was formally declared on June 10, 2010, and amounts to more than 90,000 km2 of diverse tropical marine habitats. One of the key ambition coming forth from that plan was to develop a Dutch Caribbean Marine Mammal Sanctuary (MMS). This report provides the necessary review and background on which to base such an endeavour.

Our updated review establishes beyond doubt that the Dutch Caribbean EEZ has a rich and diverse marine mammal fauna which merits more extensive protection. Even though the fauna is only poorly known, based almost exclusively on incidental sightings and strandings, it amounts to a minimum of 19 marine mammal species, and possibly up to more than 30. Without exception, all documented species appear on protected species lists of one or more treaties ratified by the Kingdom, and/or its constituent countries. Large differences are apparent between the leeward and windward sectors of the Dutch Caribbean EEZ, both in terms of species composition and conservation issues. Throughout the region, cetaceans are playing an increasingly important role in island economies as an important natural attraction for eco-based recreation and tourism, and in this respect the Dutch Caribbean also possesses major potential.

We here propose the establishment of a MMS as the cornerstone to sustainable conservation and management of these charismatic animals. Ecological arguments for the establishment of habitat protection by means of the concept of sanctuaries are outlined, as are the many environmental issues that would eventually need to be addressed within the sanctuary.

Favourable pre-conditions for the establishment of a MMS in the Dutch Caribbean include the fact that

  • a) all cetaceans are already have a legal status in the Dutch Caribbean EEZ which calls for actual protection,
  • b) the most deleterious fishing practices are already significantly limited and controlled within Kingdom waters,
  • c) the key enforcer, namely the Coastguard, is already strongly present (largely due to other reasons),
  • d) the islands generally have a strong tradition of marine protected areas in coastal habitat,
  • e) the incremental costs for research and enforcement needed to establish a sanctuary is modest,
  • f) public support is high, thanks to the generally high level of development and awareness of the public,
  • g) indigenous fishery practices do not conflict with cetacean conservation, and
  • h) whale watching interests are only in their infancy.

Steps to establish a Marine Mammal Sanctuary (MMS) should include:

  • Legal designation of the sanctuary is the first and most important step that provides the framework for all broader (international cooperation) and in-depth (knowledge and conservation development) initiatives.
  • Once established, the fuller implementation of an MMS should be seen as a gradual process, involving development of knowledge, policy, rules and regulations, as well as public and stakeholder participation

Management Recommendations:

The following key action points are proposed to establish a Marine Mammal Sanctuary:

  • a) Legal designation of the EEZ (one or both sectors) as MMS, along with establishment of legal guidelines for interacting with cetaceans (whale watching).
  • b) Establish bonds of cooperation with sister sanctuaries in the region (France, USA, Dominican Republic), (e.g. regional stranding and sightings data network).
  • c) Conduct baseline quantitative surveys of cetacean distribution and assessments in light of sources of deleterious sound sources and risks of vessel strikes.
  • d) Review and adapt existing national and insular legal frameworks to improve these, preferably by developing separate and standardized marine mammals legislation.
  • e) Develop information systems to promote the development of a whale (cetacean) watching industry.
  • f) Train and equip marine parks and island veterinarians to conduct elementary autopsies and collect basic stranding specimens for analysis of causes of mortality, contamination levels and genetics, and link them to international academic institutions who will accept and analyse the specimens in regional context.
  • g) Develop species action plans (e.g. humpback).
  • h) Conduct cetacean surveys and management reviews every 5 years to assess marine mammal status and conservation progress.
Date
2011
Data type
Research report
Theme
Research and monitoring
Report number
C149/11
Geographic location
Aruba
Bonaire
Curacao
Saba
Saba bank
St. Eustatius
St. Maarten