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Important marine mammal status for Bermuda

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A whale breeching off Bermuda (File photograph by Andrew Stevenson)

A whale researcher is to travel to Mexico to present a case for Bermuda to be designated an Important Marine Mammal Area.

Andrew Stevenson, the founder of the Whales Bermuda project, also worked with SailGP’s Germany team when it visited last week to take water samples around the island, using technology that can identify which marine vertebrates passed through the area in the previous 24-hour period.

Mr Stevenson is a consultant for the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which works in nature conservation and sustainable use of natural resources.

His consultancy is funded by Unesco through the Sargasso Sea Commission, which is backing the trip to Mexico.

Mr Stevenson said: “The aim of the IMMA Regional Workshop for the North West Atlantic Ocean and Wider Caribbean Region is to identify discrete habitat areas, important for one or more marine mammal species, that have the potential to be delineated and managed for conservation.

“This will be achieved through an expert-based process, utilising selection criteria devised by the task force in consultation with the marine mammal science and conservation community.

“This IMMA regional workshop may also assist in providing strategic direction and conservation priorities to the development of area-based marine mammal conservation within the North West Atlantic Ocean and Wider Caribbean Region.

“This may further include an initial assessment of the potential conservation concerns across the region, as well as recommendations on how to address such concerns through the identification of IMMAs and appropriate conservation tools.”

He explained: “The intention is that the identification of IMMAs through a consistent expert process, independent of any political and socio-economic concerns, will provide valuable input of marine mammals into existing national and international conservation tools.

“These include national and potential high-seas marine protected areas, ecologically or biologically significant areas under the Convention on Biological Diversity, key biodiversity areas identified through the IUCN Standard, as well as marine spatial planning processes.”

Andrew Stevenson with the Sergeant’s Cup for Marine Art he won with his aerial photograph of a humpback whale breaching. Mr Stevenson’s winning entry, Breach, is on display along with the other entrants at the Bermuda Society of Arts Gallery, City Hall (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Mr Stevenson said he spent a “record” 45 days on the water this humpback whale season and identified more than 300 individual humpbacks as part of the Whales Bermuda project.

He noted that 20 per cent of those recorded this season were identified in Bermuda in previous years.

To top off the season, he went out with SailGP Germany on the SailGP racecourse to carry out an eDNA analysis: eDNA is nuclear or mitochondrial DNA that is released from an organism into the environment.

Laboratory technicians at Naturemetrics, a leading provider of biodiversity monitoring data based in Britain, can determine which marine vertebrates pass.

Mr Stevenson said: “We took water samples a mile south of Southwest Breaker, where a humpback calf approached within 50 feet of my boat just after we collected the water sample.

“We then went out to Challenger Bank, where we took more water samples with nine whales singing and dancing around the boat.

“The singing was done by more than one whale and was so loud we could easily hear it through the hull of the boat.

“Finally, we took another sample off the southwest corner of the Bermuda platform where we witnessed three Cuvier’s beaked whales and a pod of bottlenose dolphins.

“Prior to racing on Sunday, we took five water samples around the Great Sound.

“I’ll be fascinated to see if Naturemetrics can determine whether other cetaceans are cruising through our waters, unbeknown to me.

“Sperm whales is an obvious one, but what else?”

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Published May 11, 2024 at 7:54 am (Updated May 11, 2024 at 7:54 am)

Important marine mammal status for Bermuda

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