Sixty-one marine mammals spotted in annual census

POSTED: 06/27/12 12:36 PM

GREAT BAY – The St. Maarten Nature Foundation has concluded its Marine Mammal Census project which lasted from February until June 2012. 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. 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, marinas and private individuals. The Nature Foundation sincerely thanks all who provided data.
“It is through their efforts that the foundation was able to compile such a comprehensive list of sightings,” a release states.

The most abundant marine mammal species was the humpback whale (41). The figure includes including calves. The second most abundant species was the Bottle Nose Dolphin (21) and the third most abundant species was the Long Snouted Spinner Dolphin (15). During research conducted in conjunction with the French Marine Reserve and the AGOA Marine Mammal Sanctuary, The Nature Foundation also observed numerous sperm whales including mothers with young. Using acoustic research and visual observations researchers are now trying to determine if there is a sperm whale travelling route in the deep waters between St. Maarten and Saba.

Another interesting result of the study is that a seal was also recorded along the eastern shore of St. Maarten. Seals have been extinct in the Caribbean since 1952 so a sighting of a seal around St. Maarten is rare. The foundation is now trying to determine if the animal was a lost or if this sighting is related to a seal which was observed in the Simpson Bay Lagoon in 2010.
The Nature Foundation also piloted whale and dolphin watching trips this year. Although sightings during the trips were minimal, watching trips will be started earlier next season to increase the chance of whale and dolphins being spotted.

The Man of War Shoal Marine Park had a considerable number of recordings of both whale and dolphin species. This considerably adds to the biological value of the park. Acoustic recordings of male humpback whales singing were also taken at various points in the waters surrounding St. Maarten. People can listen to the recordings and view photos by going to the Nature Foundation’s YouTube channel. The video is titled Nature Foundation Marine Mammal Research 2012.

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