Report Nature Foundation: “Dolphin and whale watching tours possible”

POSTED: 05/5/11 12:14 PM

Marine Mammal census shows abundance of whales and dolphins

GREAT BAY – The St. Maarten Nature Foundation concluded its Marine Mammal Census project which started in February. The goal of this project was to conduct a wide scale census of all marine mammals found in St. Maarten’s 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,” commented Tadzio Bervoets, Nature Foundation Marine Park Manager. 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 study relied heavily on sighting forms developed by the Nature Foundation and distributed to dive centers, yacht charter companies and marinas. “We would really like to thank all those who provided valuable data to us, and it is through their efforts that we were able to compile such a comprehensive list of sightings,” Bervoets said.

The most abundant main mammal species was the humpback whale, with the total number recorded at 33 individuals, including calves. Second was the bottle nose dolphin, with total of 19 individuals; third was the long snouted spinner dolphin with nine individuals.

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. Acoustic recordings of male humpback whales singing were also taken at various points. The local whale songs are accessible on www.youtube.com/watch?v=JfpsnuUNXDW.

The report concludes that a significant number of marine mammals transverse St. Maarten’s waters from the months of January to May.

These months were chosen based on the migratory timing of the humpback whale. Aside from the humpback whale bottlenose and spinner dolphins were also observed in fairly large numbers. Based on the fact that this is the first study of its kind a structured program must be put in place to monitor changes in abundance and distribution of marine mammals, the report notes.

“Aside from the charisma that these species bring they can also be of economic benefit to 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, 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.

“However if this activity does occur, it should do so within a strict protocol so as not to cause any significant harm to the animals in their wild environment. 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,” the report concludes.

 

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