PHILIPSBURG:— The St. Maarten Nature Foundation is once again conducting its Marine Mammal Monitoring project which will last until May. The Nature Foundation, in cooperation with Dolphin Defenders St. Maarten; the Reserve Naturelle of St. Martin and St. Barths; the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance and various other partners, will be conducting a wide scale census of all Marine Mammals found in St. Maarten/ St. Martin 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. St. Maarten lies within the area of the Western Atlantic where various whale species come to give birth to their young. From February to May several hundreds of Humpback Whales migrate from the northern Atlantic to areas within the Caribbean to give birth and nurse their young before heading back up north”, commented Tadzio Bervoets from the Nature Foundation.
Numerous other species of whale and dolphin, including sperm whales and several types of dolphins, make their home in local waters. Several questions are hoped to be answered as a result of the study, including most numerous species, migration routes and dates, and the feasibility of regulated wild whale and dolphin watching trips. This year the Nature Foundation will once again be partnering with Dolphin Defenders St. Maarten to bring greater awareness to the general public about St. Maarten’s wild Marine Mammal Population and conservation issues faced by Marine Mammals in local waters. The Nature Foundation also hopes that St. Maarten will become a signatory to the Marine Mammal Sanctuary currently being established in the North Eastern Caribbean.
The most abundant Maine Mammal species recorded in 2014 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 45 individuals; the third most abundant species recorded was the Long Snouted Spinner Dolphin with 22 individuals recorded within the island’s territorial waters. During research conducted in conjunction with the French Marine Reserve, the MEGARA Foundation and the AGOA Marine Mammal Sanctuary satellite tags were placed on eight Humpback Whales and their migratory patterns tracked. This year research will also be conducted on whether or not ST. Maarten whales have any connectivity with whales which migrate through the waters of the Yarari Marine Mammal Reserve, a recently established marine mammal sanctuary in Saba and Bonaire.
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 will also be taken at various points in the waters surrounding St. Maarten using specialized recording equipment donated to the organization by the IMARES research institute in the Netherlands. The public is urged to listen to the local whale songs and look at video and photo of marine mammals in our local waters by looking at the Nature Foundation YouTube and Facebook pages.
If the public is interested in participating in the marine Mammal census they can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and request a sighting form. Various charter boat and dive operators have been given copies of forms which they can distribute to their clients.