The oceans are the largest ecosystem on earth, along with the seas they cover over 70% of our planet. Indispensable to life, they provide us with the majority of our oxygen and food, regulate our climate and are home to a great diversity of species.
Yet less than 20% of our oceans have been studied, making it an ecosystem less known than the moon or Mars.
Cetaceans are marine mammals and include whales, dolphins and porpoises. This group counts the largest animal (the blue whale) and the highest predator on Earth (the sperm whale) and includes species that share many traits with humans. Like us, they breathe air, give birth to youngs after long periods of gestation, show complex social structures and demonstrate a certain degree of intelligence
It has already been shown that some species have a social culture, that they can learn to use tools, experience pleasure during reproduction, or speak different languages within the same species.
Their value has been estimated by the IMF (International Monetary Fund). Whales bring benefits to local populations for tourism and fishing, they also and above all perform an essential ecological work. Indeed, cetaceans allow an absorption of CO2 equivalent to 4 times the Amazon rainforest absorption, thus representing the most important lever against climate change. They also are a keystone in the production of phytoplankton which provides most of the oxygen on Earth. The estimate of this contribution is over $ 1 trillion for all large whales per year, or more than $ 2 millions per year per whale. Saving them means therefore saving our planet !
In the Caribbean
In the Caribbean at least 33 species of cetaceans have been documented, more than a third of the species diversity of the world (90 species in 2020).
This group brings together 7 species of mysticetes (baleen whales like the blue whale for example) and 26 odontocete species (toothed cetaceans like sperm whales, orcas and dolphins).
The Caribbean region is an essential habitat for the majority of these species, especially for reproduction and food. Although some species are already classified as endangered, data is still largely insufficient for most of them. It is therefore possible that some populations are already in a critical state without us knowing it and therefore without being able to act to conserve them.
Unique cultural heritage
It is recognized that human civilizations are adapted to their environment. Thus the extinction of a population represents not only the loss of human lives, but the loss of a cultural heritage as a technique, an art or a language (we would not like to lose the Caribbean art of Reggae or Soca for instance !). The populations of cetaceans present in our waters are adapted to the various islands they frequent. They are therefore governed by the same mechanism. Thus the extinction of a sperm whale population does not come down to the death of several individuals among the world stock, but to the loss of a cultural heritage such as a type of predation, a communication pattern or a specialized behavior in the Caribbean zone and which is passed down from generation to generation.
Several threats endanger our cetacean populations. Vessels strikes, direct and indirect fishing, pollution, unregulated whale watching, acoustic disturbances during works or with sonar and the destruction or modification of habitats are events that can be reduced and improved in order to limit negative impacts on marine megafauna.
Marine Mammals know
Cetaceans travel long distances and use wide areas, their distribution often includes several countries. From the point of view of cetaceans, Caribbean is a unique space that they have used for millions of years without limits other than temperature or depth. It is therefore up to us to adapt together and unite by breaking down our barriers to protect them despite our borders, our different laws, languages and cultures in each of our territories.
Sustainability is key
Continuity is a key element for successful effective cooperation between islands. Although organizations exist on several islands and provide high quality work, it is generally confined locally. Untill today, no organization was dedicated to the conservation of cetaceans in the wider Caribbean region to make the link between islands. Several government projects have been initiated, they are generally profitable/favorable/apropriate/meaningful at the time, but these are fixed-term fundings. The projects managers are mostly foreigners from the Caribbean and the turnover is very high, resulting in a loss of follow-up or of accumulated skills.
The situation thus echoes the myth of Sisyphus in which the conservation of megafauna must be started again each time it reaches an effective level, like Sisyphus who was condemned to carry his rock indefinitely. Today we want to break this cycle to unite all the territories.
This is why the Caribbean Cetacean Society rises to fill the gap.