Sun, sea and whales | Caribbean Beat

Originally written for and published in Caribbean Beat magazine in 2007

Whale-watching may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the Caribbean, but last December saw the formation of a new organisation, CARIBwhale, designed to change that. In the face of growing aggression from powerful pro-whaling interests worldwide, CARIBwhale is taking a stand to protect these giant creatures and their marine environment from further exploitation.

The Caribbean is a major nesting ground and migratory route for many species of whale, particularly during the peak months of September through March. There are excellent sighting opportunities throughout the eastern Caribbean, especially in Dominica, St Lucia, St Vincent, Grenada and the Dominican Republic (all of which have CARIBwhale members).

Early in the year, humpbacks migrate all the way from New England to mate and calf in St Vincent, where Bryde’s whales and sperm whales are also often sighted en route from Martinique and Guadeloupe. Dominica actually has a resident sperm whale population, and the entire southern and eastern Caribbean hosts large numbers of pilot whales, spinner dolphins, and short-nose dolphins. As far south as Trinidad, there used to be large populations of pilot whales, to the extent that the Gulf of Paria was once referred to as the Gulf of Whales. However, hunting and industrial activity have extinguished or repelled the once flourishing population, and largely restricted sightings to islands further north.

Beyond promoting eco-tourism through whale- and dolphin-watching efforts, however, CARIBwhale also aims to make an impact on a larger scale. There are already plans to develop and implement local educational, training and marine research programmes, together with government ministries and conservation groups, and to standardise data-collection procedures—both for marine life, and to assess the social and economic impacts of the region’s whale-watching industries.

Whale-watching organisations, hotel and tourism associations and conservation groups in 15 island nations have signed on as CARIBwhale members. The islands have received major support from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), whose director of wildlife and habitat protection is Trinidadian Dr Joth Singh. “One of the goals of CARIBwhale is to get some of the benefits of whale-watching to potential small operators,” Singh explained. “There is tremendous potential for growth in the whale-watching industry in the Caribbean and there is an expressed commitment from the larger operators to provide training and exposure to individuals who may be interested in joining this growing industry.”

For more information on CARIBwhale and whale-watching in the Caribbean,
contact:

 

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