Marine sanctuary declared for marine mammals

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  • Photo by Chris Burville
A humpback whale breaches the surface of the ocean off the South Shore of Bermuda in 2006.

    Photo by Chris Burville A humpback whale breaches the surface of the ocean off the South Shore of Bermuda in 2006.

Following Cabinet approval last month, Bermuda’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) has been declared a Marine Mammal Sanctuary with special emphasis on the endangered humpback whale.

In making the announcement yesterday, Environment Minister Marc Bean said the symbolic designation reaffirms Government’s commitment to support the Sargasso Sea Alliance.

“Steps were taken last year to establish a partnership with the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary which is administered by the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,” said Mr Bean.

Famous for whale watching, Stellwagen Bank is a 638 nautical square mile marine sanctuary located at the mouth of Massachusetts Bay.

According to the Minister, the new Bermuda Marine Mammal Sanctuary will be more than 170,000 square miles, approximately circular in shape with Bermuda at its centre.

“Although by no means the biggest Marine Mammal Sanctuary in the world, it is a very substantial size and we hope it will be a great contribution to marine mammal conservation in the Atlantic Ocean,” said Mr Bean.

“The formal declaration of the Bermuda Sanctuary means that Bermuda can now establish a ‘Sister Sanctuary’ agreement with Stellwagen Bank. The Bermuda Government has today signed this collaboration agreement,” he added.

A letter of intent was signed at a ceremony in June to build a model for international cooperation to extend protection zones for the endangered humpback whale.

“Over the past six years 673 individual humpback whales have been identified here in Bermuda by the Humpback Whale Project Bermuda, many of them matching to fluke IDs made in the southern calving grounds and the northern feeding grounds,” said Mr Bean.

“Some of these matches go back 35 years. This is the largest data base of fluke IDs of migrating whales in the middle of the ocean obtained anywhere.

“Individual humpback whales migrating each spring from the Caribbean to Bermuda and Stellwagen Bank have been routinely identified by the unique patterns of their tail fins, here in Bermuda a well as at Stellwagen Bank.

“The endangered Atlantic humpback whale population spends the summer months feeding in the northern feeding grounds before making the return voyage to the Caribbean for the winter calving season,” he added.

Humpback whales are already protected by two pieces of local legislation, the Fisheries Act 1972 and the Protected Species Act 2003 which gives specific protection to whales that are considered threatened.

The Minister was accompanied by Dr David Freestone, Executive Director of the Sargasso Sea Alliance and local whale expert Andrew Stevenson to make the announcement.

Mr Stevenson noted that Bermuda is one of the best places in the world for whale watching.

He was hopeful that once the word gets out that Bermuda is at the centre of a new sanctuary for mammals it will become an added attraction for whale watchers.

“Unlike other regions the waters off Bermuda are crystal clear, you can even see the whales below the surface, I’ve even watched whales off Bermuda from the shoreline., said Mr Stevenson.

“And you don’t have to go very far off shore during the migration period to see whales off Bermuda, we have about five hot spots, some as close as five to seven miles offshore.”

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