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The Caribbean Cetacean Society, a New Caribbean NGO, Shows Exceptional Results During its First Scientific Expeditions in the West Indies

MARTINIQUE:--- After completing 4 out of 6 scientific expeditions, the Caribbean Cetacean Society (CCS) studied more than 2,950 marine mammals from 10 different species visually and acoustically between the islands of Anguilla and Martinique this summer during its project “Ti Whale an Nou 2021 ”(Our Little Whales). More than 600 hours of high-frequency bioacoustic sound was recorded in 50 days during a sustained research effort spread over more than 4000 kilometers.
The NGO, newly founded by Caribbean marine biologists from Martinique concerned with protecting their territory, is showing promising results during its first year of research. By sailing along 13 Caribbean islands for two months, they collected data on marine mammals within the entire region. This Caribbean organization is already positioned as the necessary coordinator of cooperation between the different islands to help improve the conservation of species that knows no borders. From this primary monitoring, it is possible to work on a management plan between the Caribbean islands to protect marine mammals equally in all waters.
These first 4 expeditions have made it possible to acoustically record orcas (Orcinus orca) in the West Indies for the first time and to collect the first photo-identification of this species in Martinique. Rare species like pygmy killer whales (Feresa attenuata) were sighted for the first time in the Yarari Marine Mammal and Shark Sanctuary, an area that consists of the waters of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba dedicated to protecting marine life. The study of 18 sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) families in the Caribbean has shown that the same social clans are shared between the Yarari Sanctuary of the BES-islands and Agoa Sanctuary of the French islands for the first time. Underlining that cooperation (one of the pillars of CCS) is the key to protect marine mammals efficiently.
Besides collecting scientific data, this Caribbean initiative has benefited more than 20 participants active in Marine Mammal research in the wider Caribbean Region. Local participants have been trained and have gained skills in this little-known subject during these expeditions to improve knowledge of marine mammals in their territory.
For each expedition, a crew of 6 have participated in the expedition in search of whales and dolphins. A towed hydrophone system made it possible to hear which marine mammal species is near the boat during the day and at night. Continuous visual surveying from the roof of the boat helps to point out nearby marine mammals. When the animals get close enough to the boat, the crew collects information with high-speed cameras by photographing the caudal (tail) fin of the sperm whales to identify them later on. The tail of each sperm whale is unique, just like human fingerprints. This information makes it possible to establish families and record the movements of all cetaceans in all the Antilles.
All Caribbean islands depend on the marine ecosystem for their food and income, so it is important to protect it. Cetaceans are a vital species for humans. Few people might be aware, but large whales capture 4 times more carbon dioxide and produce 4 times more oxygen than the great Amazon rainforest annually. For example, the sperm whale is the largest predator in the world, they live in families, have cultures, and speak different languages between clans. The loss of this species could imply a disaster for marine life as we know it.
The rest of the expeditions are surely going to reveal other fascinating results on our natural heritage about which is so little known.
A network and partners
This mission is the result of the cooperation of a Caribbean network, which seems to be the best solution for the protection of migratory species that we share. It is made possible thanks to the participation of public and private partners: Corail Caraibes, World Wildlife Fund for Nature - Netherlands, EDF Group Foundation, Orange Foundation, SARA, DCNA, and AWI.

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