Dominica, a small island in the Caribbean, is establishing a marine protected area to safeguard the endangered sperm whale, one of the largest creatures on our planet.
The government announced on Monday that a reserve will be established on the western side of the island nation, covering an area of approximately 300 square miles (800 square kilometers). This reserve serves as important nursing and feeding grounds for marine life, with waters in a striking royal blue color.
The prime minister of Dominica, Roosevelt Skerrit, stated that it is important to protect these magnificent and intelligent creatures and preserve the health of our oceans and climate.
Researchers suggest that the sanctuary will not only safeguard the creatures, but also aid in combatting the issue of climate change.
Sperm whales release feces near the surface as they disable non-essential processes while diving to depths of 10,000ft (3,000 meters). This results in nutrient-dense waste remaining on the ocean’s surface, leading to the growth of plankton blooms. These blooms absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and transport it to the ocean floor upon their death. According to Shane Gero, a whale expert and creator of the Dominica Sperm Whale Project, sperm whales in Dominica are believed to defecate more frequently than those in other areas of the world. The project is dedicated to researching sperm whales in the eastern Caribbean.
The reason for the increased defecation of sperm whales in Dominica remains uncertain. According to Gero, this could be due to a higher food intake or possibly a unique characteristic of the squid they consume.
According to Gero, sperm whales are helping to combat climate change in certain ways.
According to estimates, there are less than 500 sperm whales residing in the waters near Dominica. This group is part of a larger population that migrates along the Lesser Antilles chain, with some traveling as far south as St Vincent and others north to Guadeloupe. In contrast to sperm whales in other regions, those in the eastern Caribbean tend to have a shorter migration distance, according to Gero.
According to his observations, sperm whales follow a matrilineal social structure where young males eventually leave and move between different oceans. Thus, safeguarding the species is crucial, particularly if there is a low birth rate of female calves.
He stated that a single calf getting caught can lead to the destruction of an entire family.
Sperm whales are capable of giving birth to one calf every five to seven years.
Sperm whales in the waters near Dominica and other areas have faced challenges such as collisions with ships, becoming tangled in fishing equipment, and being impacted by runoff from agriculture, all of which have resulted in a decrease in their population. Prior to the era of whaling, there were approximately 2 million sperm whales inhabiting the Earth’s deep waters, but their numbers have dwindled to around 800,000 due to hunting for their oil, which was used for lighting and machinery lubrication. According to Gero, this is the current estimated population.
The government of Dominica announced that the reserve would promote responsible small-scale fishing practices and establish a designated shipping route to prevent further fatalities of sperm whales. These creatures have the largest brain of any animal on the planet and can reach lengths of up to 50ft (15 meters).
After establishing the reserve, the prime minister announced that his administration will select an officer and observers to guarantee compliance with the regulations and protection of the area. While visitors can still engage in activities such as swimming with sperm whales and viewing them from a boat, there will be restrictions on the number of people allowed.
Enric Sala, who is an explorer-in-residence at National Geographic, joined other scientists and conservationists in commending the decision.
The government of Dominica has acknowledged that the sperm whales, who may have inhabited the area prior to humans, should also be considered citizens of Dominica,” he stated. “These whales primarily reside near the island for the majority of the year. Therefore, they are providing care for their citizens in a manner that few countries have ever done.
Approximately 35 families of sperm whales reside primarily in the waters near Dominica. According to Gero, some of these whales may be over 60 years old and they communicate through clicking noises, a behavior known as codas.
Gero explained, “It’s similar to asking, ‘Are you from Dominica like me?’ It serves as a symbol.”