Marine Mammals of the Northeastern Caribbean windward Dutch Islands: Saba, St. Eustatius, St. Maarten, and the Saba Bank
Debrot, A.O.; Esteban, N.; Bervoets, T.; Hoetjes, P.C.; Scheidat, M.
At least 33 native species of marine mammals have been documented from the Wider Caribbean Region (WCR). For many of these species, the waters of the region serve as primary habitat for critical activities that include feeding, mating and calving. However, relatively little remains known about their biology, life history, distribution and behavior, particularly also around the windward Dutch islands (Saba, St. Eustatius and St. Maarten). In this study we compiled 84 marine mammal records for the waters of these islands, comprising 9 previously published records and 75 new records. A total of eight distinct species are documented, six of which are cetaceans. In comparison to the leeward Dutch islands (Aruba, Curaçao and Bonaire), documented strandings are few. Results suggest that whereas beaked whales and Bryde’s whale are more common around the leeward Dutch islands, humpback whales are more common around the windward Dutch islands. This study concludes that more dedicated efforts are needed to better document and understand cetacean composition, seasonality and use of the both the windward and leeward Dutch Caribbean maritime territories. Such initiatives should help further clarify any potential regional differences as well the underlying causes thereof. Several nations, including the USA, the Dominican Republic and France, have established marine mammal sanctuaries in their Caribbean waters. Declaring the Dutch EEZ as a marine mammal sanctuary would be a valuable contribution to the conservation of marine mammals in the region.