Cover Photo by: Enric Sala/National Geographic Pristine Seas
The Government of Dominica on Monday formally announced a decision to establish a Sperm Whale Reserve off the Western coast of the island.
The new reserve will protect a species scientists say are under increased threat from human activity.
“The 200 or so sperm whales that call our sea home are prized citizens of Dominica,” said Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit. “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.”
Minister for Fisheries, Blue and Green Economy, Hon. Roland Royer said the reserve will be developed to support the island’s traditional fishing activities and add value to the tourism industry.
“It is our hope that through the Sperm Whale Reserve we are able to create a new model of eco-tourism that provides multiple benefits, both tangible and intangible to a wide range of stakeholders particularly in the tourism, transportation, and fisheries sectors.
“Recognising that we are a small island developing state with limited resources, we have the opportunity through this humble act of protecting the Sperm Whales that call Dominica home, to have a profound regional and international impact,” he added.
Royer said Dominica is privileged to have over 50 Sperm Whale families living in the calm waters off the island’s west coast in matrilineal societies led by grandmothers and mothers, diving deep for squid, giving birth and raising their young.
“Unfortunately, across the oceans, from the busy US West Pacific Coast to a remote island in Western Australia, the world’s largest mammals are showing signs of distress. Records of mass die-offs, mysterious illnesses and puzzling changes in behaviour make it clear that whales need a lifeline,” he noted.
Royer said that as part of the island’s development agenda, Dominica is seeking to pursue “a well-planned, highly productive, competitive, and innovative Blue Economy that promotes full and productive employment and equal access to economic resources and opportunities for meeting our target for the agricultural sector to contribute EC$700 million to GDP by 2030 and a target of 132,000 stay-over tourists per annum.”
The Government of Dominica partnered with National Geographic-Pristine Seas to establish the 788 square kilometer reserve.
The founder of Pristine Seas and Explorer in Residence at National Geographic, Dr. Enric Sala said protecting the whales is a cost-effective solution to climate change.
“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,” said Sala.
Dr. Shane Gero, Founder of the Dominica Sperm Whale Project said the community of sperm whales which use the waters off Dominica are at risk.
“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, 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.”
Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Climate Resilience Execution Agency for Dominica (CREAD) Francine Baron noted that the establishment of the reserve is part of Dominica’s efforts to boost the resilience of its ecosystems as part of overall efforts to build climate resilience.
“We are very fortunate to have over 50 families of sperm whales, who choose Dominica’s waters as their home. We have lived in harmony with the whales for several decades, and consider them as part of us. And they have also formed an important component of our tourism product,” she said.
Dominica will soon approve legislation which will outline a comprehensive management plan for the reserve, including specific protocols for navigation within the reserve area.