Who doesn’t marvel at the sight of whales breaching or dolphin riding bow waves These cetaceans play an essential role in the blue economy of the Caribbean and whales specifically are potent protectors against climate change. However, recent results of six scientific expeditions in the Lesser Antilles in 2022 by the Caribbean Cetacean Society (CCS) reveal that the waters are rich in these mammals, with 22 species observed, but that they are threatened. Out of some 437 sightings, more than half (52%) of the whales and dolphins observed had scars inflicted by humans, such as by propellers, collisions, and nets. Collectively, the CCS’s expeditions, called “Ti Whale An Nou” (Our Little Whales) is the largest cetacean study program ever conducted in the Caribbean and it’s supported by the Worldwide Fund for Nature the Netherlands (WWF-NL), the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance and other partners.
“Everyone thinks that whales and dolphins in the Caribbean are fine. But as a marine biologist, I can tell you that not having data, until now, doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem and that they need protection,” says Jeffrey Bernus, the CCS’s co-founder and director, who sailed across the Atlantic from France as a young child with his family and grew up in the Caribbean. “Our program is an NGO (non-governmental organization) that focuses on four areas – cooperation, knowledge, conservation, and communication. Cooperation among islands is especially important because cetaceans know no boundaries. We are looking next at research in the Turks and Caicos and Haiti, and by next fall hope to find partners in the ABC islands. To do this, we are looking for individuals or companies that can offer a catamaran for two weeks for us to set up our equipment and conduct the research.”
Yacht charter company Corail Caraibes, with bases in Martinique and Guadeloupe, supported the CCS with the use of one of its Lagoon catamarans for its expeditions.
Interestingly, Bernus shares that boosting whale populations can help capture more carbon from the atmosphere and affect climate change. Specifically, according to a 2019-released report by the IMF (International Monetary Fund), whales, especially great whales, take 33 tons of CO2 out of the environment during their lifetimes, which sinks to the ocean bottom with them when they die. This compares to a tree, which absorbs only 48 pounds of carbon dioxide a year. Thus, one whale is worth thousands of trees in the climate change fight. www.ccs-ngo.com