Dominica to open 788-square-kilometer sperm whale reserve
Dominica announced the world’s first sperm whale reserve, with the goal of protecting the vulnerable species and boost the region’s eco-tourism.
The government of the Caribbean state said the reserve is slated to be 788 square kilometers in size, declaring it will protect sperm whales from human activity, generate tourism income, and sequester carbon.
“Protecting these whales offers an incredible, cost-effective climate solution that has been overlooked by policymakers,” National Geographic Pristine Seas Founder and Explorer-in-Residence Enric Sala said in a release. “By protecting sperm whales, Dominica is bolstering its climate resilience. The more sperm whales in Dominica’s waters, the more carbon sequestered in the deep sea, thus helping to mitigate global warming.”
The reserve will restrict ships to using designated corridors to reduce noise and ship strikes in sperm whale nursing and feeding areas. The reserve is to be located on the western side of the island and will cover less than 3 percent of the Dominican waters, which offers “enough protection” to the whales, according to the government of Dominica.
"The 200 or so sperm whales that call our sea home are prized citizens of Dominica,” Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said in a release. “Their ancestors likely inhabited Dominica before humans arrived. We want to ensure these majestic and highly intelligent animals are safe from harm and continue keeping our waters and our climate healthy. Dominica is honored to establish the first sperm whale reserve on our planet.”
Dominica is one of the few countries with a year-round population of sperm whales, offering a unique habitat where the whales are able to find food and shelter, making it a critical feeding and nursing grounds. The reserve will be overseen by a senior whale officer.
“Dominica has the opportunity to show the world how to reconcile marine conservation with responsible use of the sea. A well-designed and regulated whale tourism operation can bring in economic revenue to offset the direct costs of managing and enforcing the reserve – and bring additional benefits to Dominica’s people,” Dynamic Planet CEO Kristin Rechberger said. “With a proper conservation business plan, protecting nature is achievable by all countries, large and small.”
The world's sperm whale population is in decline, and Dominica's own population has similarly seen a drop, according to National Geographic Explorer and Dominica Sperm Whale Project Founder Shane Gero.
“The community of sperm whales which use the waters off Dominica are at risk,” Gero said. “These ‘island whales’ live alongside humans, preferring this island over others, making our actions in their ocean home their biggest threat. These whales are entangled in fishing gear, ingest our plastic trash that washes into the sea, are engulfed in our noise which radiates deep into the ocean where they hunt for squid, and are hit by ships, a particularly heightened threat in the Caribbean, where everything is imported and many vessels transit between islands. All of this comes together to paint a distressing picture for the future of sperm whales.”
Photo courtesy of Martin Prochazkacz/Shutterstock